At the heart of the Diné Nation, a public school has been recognized for its educational commitment to providing students with an opportunity currently lacking in the rest of New Mexico: a guaranteed education in personal finance.
There are 160 traditional public high schools and 36 public charter high schools in New Mexico. According to the nonprofit organization Next Gen Personal Finance, only two of these schools are recognized as “Gold Standard” schools, which require personal finance to graduate. One of them is Navajo Pine High School, which I know very well because the school’s campus is located north of the Navajo Nation capital.
Personal finance education is crucial to the success of our students, as it teaches them essential life skills, such as budgeting, savings, investing, credit scores, and borrowing costs. Research shows that students who complete these courses are more likely to save money, invest money, create budgets, and seek less expensive forms of credit. Students in New Mexico need these tools to break generational cycles of poverty.
Unfortunately, Navajo Pine High School is one of only two schools in New Mexico where students must learn these skills before they graduate. New Mexico is one of five states that does not include personal finance in its education standards. Additionally, although New Mexico requires its high schools to offer electives in personal finance, only 11% of the state’s students enroll in the program. No wonder New Mexico ranks 47th for overall financial literacy.
In my experience, personal finance is a targeted approach to alleviating poverty and establishing culturally relevant and equitable education. Students learn financial skills that will last them a lifetime. They share the knowledge they receive with family and friends, and they are better prepared to make financial decisions in the job market or in college.
Before I became Vice President of the Navajo Nation, I learned hard knocks in school for many years. As a meat cutter in Phoenix, I learned that I had a lot more to offer in my life than cutting meat in a grocery store. Then I continued my graduate studies in Business Administration at Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado, where I gained enough financial wisdom to operate family businesses in the Navajo Nation.
Through these experiences, and because I didn’t have access to a personal finance class in high school, I realized I had missed out on a vital opportunity. As a result, I continue to advocate for personal finance courses throughout the Navajo Indian Reservation, so that our Diné students become confident and able to manage their money.
In Arizona, I’m honored to be a part of the State Treasurer’s Financial Literacy Task Force, which advances financial literacy for students and families across the state. Last year, Arizona enacted Senate Bill 1184, making financial literacy and personal finance management a requirement for high school graduation. These subjects are now included in a compulsory one-semester course in economics.
During the New Mexico legislative session of 2021, Representatives Willie D. Madrid, Antonio “Moe” Maestas, Meredith A. Dixon, Jane E. Powdrell-Culbert and Melanie A. Stansbury sponsored Bill 163, a bipartisan effort that would have literacy a requirement for high school graduation. The bill was passed unanimously by the House and the Senate Education Committee before lingering in the Senate for eight days without a vote.
Many organizations are already working on adopting a personal finance degree requirement, including Think New Mexico, American Association of University Women, Credit Union Association of New Mexico, Chamber of Commerce of Greater Albuquerque , independent community bankers, the League of Women Voters. New Mexico and now the Navajo Nation.
Navajo Pine High School gave New Mexico a role model on how to integrate personal finance education into rigorous and relevant high school education.
I urge Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham to put personal finance education on call for the 2022 legislative session. I also urge the New Mexico Senate to join the New Mexico House in adopting a law to make personal finance a high school graduation requirement. Ahe’hee ‘.
Myron Lizer is Vice President of the Navajo Nation.