Apr 21, 2023

NGPF Podcast: Panel Discussion on Advocating for Financial Education

The movement sweeping the country to increase access to financial education has many leaders. Listen to this podcast to learn how a student (David Klinker), a teacher (Courtney Poquette) and a nonprofit advocate (Kerry Woodward) have been working hard to advocate in their communities.


Tim Ranzetta: Hey, it's me, Tim Ranzetta, co-founder of Next Gen Personal Finance. Thank you for tuning in to this NGPF podcast. Today you're gonna hear from Yanely. She is joined by Courtney Poquette and David Klinker they're a teacher in student pair from Winooski, Vermont, who've dedicated both time and effort to champion financial education in their state. You're also gonna hear from Kerry Woodward. She's a nonprofit executive with deep experience in the financial services sector. She's in Pennsylvania. She's dedicated her service to expanding access to financial education. The three of them will share their motivations, their goals, and their challenges that they have faced in guaranteeing a semester of personal finance for every high school student in their states. Enjoy

[00:00:48] Introduction and Experience Advocating for Personal Finance

Yanely Espinal: So we're gonna just jump right in. We'd love to just have each of you introduce yourselves and share with us the extent to which you have been involved in advocating for expanding access to financial education within your local area. So we'll start with Courtney. Then we'll go to David and we'll end with Kerry. Great. 

Courtney Poquette: I'm so excited to be here. I teach personal finance and business in Winooski High School, which is in Vermont. We're right outside of Burlington and I have been teaching for 17 years. And when I think about advocacy, I think sometimes we kind of make it bigger than it needs to be.

And we can always start with small steps. And so I guess I first started advocating for personal finance education when I first started teaching because the school I was hired to teach. To my knowledge, never had a personal finance course before. So like the first step to advocacy for me was just creating the course. Throughout the time creating the course, then I started to network with other teachers and, and connecting with different organizations. And so I've worked on some projects at the state level. And then I advocate whenever I can with the, the local legislature. And then also just trying to advocate by telling people what I do and getting people to come into my classroom and then share the story.

Yanely Espinal: Speaking of your classroom and your students, we have one of your students on the panel. 

David Klinker: So my name is David Klinker. I am a previous graduate of Winooski High School and a student of Ms. Poquette. My role with advocacy has really just been on like helping other students. I love talking to my peers about it all the time. I'm a marketing major with Finance minor at Champlain College, and I have two businesses of my own, which Ms. Poquette helped me start. 

And then I've also helped Ms. Poquette alongside many of the things that she has done, whether that's, you know, sending emails and letters to state legislators, to being in interviews, things like that, doing whatever I can to spread the word cause it's. 

Yanely Espinal: Wow. That's amazing. Thank you so much David, for that strong intro. Well our last panelist today is Kerry go ahead and jump in and give us your introduction. 

Kerry Woodward: I'm also very excited to be here. My name is Kerry Woodward. I'm the Executive Director of Philadelphia Financial Scholars. We're a nonprofit with the mission of expanding access to financial empowerment education for high school students here in Philadelphia. I've been in this role in advocating for personal finance education since October of 2021 on a full-time basis. But I started advocating for more in some of the more informal ways that Courtney mentioned back in 2007 when I was living and working in New York. So it's a 15 plus year journey for me. 

[00:03:20] Getting Involved in Advocacy 

Yanely Espinal: That's amazing. And not only a 15 plus year journey, but a multi-state journey. So I really appreciate that. As teachers, as students, the workload, your life outside of work or outside of school, right? Your family, your friends, your hobbies, errands that you have to run. Just life, right? And so it can feel impossible, if not near to, impossible to find the time or the space or the mental energy and capacity to take on such a lofty effort, like becoming an advocate that's actively pushing for financial education to, you know, be available to more students. So how did each of you kind of begin your advocacy efforts? 

Kerry Woodward: So my biggest tip for that is don't go it alone and find your people. So I'm in the privileged position of doing this as my full-time job right now, but we have 21 teachers participating in our program in Philadelphia, and they see themselves as part of a collective movement.

So we share our advocacy efforts, we spread the work around, and it makes it much less. Overwhelming and difficult to participate in that way. In this month, in financial literacy month, out of our 21 teachers, you know, 18 of them took on one or two small tasks like trying to organize a student essay contest, trying to get students to submit op-eds to our local papers trying to have events like this one where we're educating other principals and teachers on the opportunity for teaching personal finance. 

David Klinker: I think my first kind of introduction to someone who was advocating for personal finance with my father. He would, you know, I remember being in fourth grade, he showed me how to set up an amortization table on Excel. And those little informal moments that, you know, might be small or not seem as fancy or kind of rough you're learning those little moments. And I think that personal finance is so important that it should be right up there with those day-to-day things that we're trying to work on.

It's around us every single day. So I would say from my perspective as a student and someone experiencing the advocacy and then later doing it myself, that was a really big thing for me. 

Courtney Poquette: I think along with what Kerry said, that was really a turning point for me when I found other advocates. But I think what really started it for me, and that kind of follows along to David's story, and then your question y is just as teachers, we see the impact of this in our classrooms every day, and I'm sure other people who are listening in will agree. And so I was seeing the impact of this education and I just wanted to tell people about it. So it was like a natural part of, of my job where I wanted to share the story. Like, oh my goodness, here's something that the students shared today, or here's something that I learned that the students knew or didn't know, that was what inspired me to keep going. And so again, I think it's just, it's in small steps and you wanna see like the world changed overnight and it doesn't happen. And so that part can get frustrating and then slow you down at times. But I think those, those are the biggest impacts. They're just the stories we see in our classroom and then sharing those. And that's what keeps me motivated and going. 

[00:06:14] Advocacy in Vermont

Yanely Espinal: Now Courtney, both you and David, your former student, are from, you know, Vermont. So I wanna kind of start with a little bit of the specifics around Vermont, because obviously two of you are from that state. But really wanting to think about what are some of the challenges, because I know that in Vermont specifically, this has been a multi-year effort. Courtney, you yourself, have been involved for many years in trying to get this class to be something that is a standalone course that every Vermont high school student gets access to. But you're not quite there yet.

Courtney Poquette: So Vermont prides itself on independent local control which is great in a lot of ways, but then also very challenging in ways like this. So essentially in Vermont, the Agency of Education creates standards that we're expected to teach, and then it's up to every school district to decide their own graduation requirements and the own their own classes. And so that makes it really. Really tough when we're trying to propose something that every school should do, when Vermonters feel like they really wanna have control about their, of their own schools and their own communities.

And then in addition to the independent local control, Vermont, a couple years ago moved to proficiency based education and, and David can probably share his experience as a student going through some changes in the school system too. We don't necessarily look at things as classes, but we instead, the kind of the model for proficiency education is that time is the variable and learning is the constant. And if a student like David could master personal finance in a week, then he could check that off and move on and so that makes it an another challenging situation when we're trying to pass laws saying we're gonna have everybody take this class when that's not the way that a lot of people think about education in Vermont.

David Klinker: Personal finance had a big or lack of personal finance literacy had a big impact in my life. My parents are separated and divorced and I've had to, you know, do the whole visitation schedule. Divorce is challenging for everyone involved, but, both my parents and I agree that a large part of it, It was just financial literacy. They didn't, you know, have a plan for what are they gonna do in life. They don't know how to save, nobody told them about like, taxes coming outta your paycheck. What do you do with these things? You know, that's really challenging.

And then you have a kid come on top of it when you're in college, that's like an impossible load to bear. But the thing is, those moments in life are real. And I feel like it's, it motivated me because everyone should be able to hear this message and realize that personal finance is necessary. Like it's something that shouldn't even be like this luxury that you know about.

It should be common knowledge, should be common sense that we all know about because it's a basic fundamental to manage your day-to-day life. So that's kind of like what inspired me to, get started on that and work on that, because I really truly believe that personal finance should be something everyone.

[00:08:58] Pros and Cons of Offering Personal Finance Early in High School

Yanely Espinal: Did you think that it made a big difference that you took it kind of like in your under when you were underclassmen versus if you had waited to kind of get to the upper two years of high school? Do you think that it would've been different or do you feel like the impact is the impact and it kind of didn't really matter? 

David Klinker: I mean, I see the, the argument for 11th and 12th grade being the time to teach those things. But I still think freshman year, 10th grade, in my opinion, I'm grateful for that.

Cause that's when I was also getting a job and I needed to know how can I plan for those things like buying a car and going to college. You know, you can't. Learned those things in the same year that you're gonna do them. Most of the time, at least for my scenario, I had to go to work and get the money myself.

So I was able to learn those things early on and I kept them with me. I think I also might be a bit of an anomaly for a lot of other students. I like will keep my class notes and like reuse things four years because I think they could be useful in other ways. So that's what I did. I'm glad I had it when I had it, but I will say I also did kind of forget some things by the time I graduated.

Luckily, Ms. Poquette sent me an opportunity to go to a local credit union and kind of get a refresher on personal professional development and like what a resume is, how to do all that stuff. So it was nice to have the refresher my senior year, but I'm also still glad I had that early on. So it's definitely a tough debate. I think there's validity to both sides. 

[00:10:19] Advocacy in Pennsylvania

Yanely Espinal: Let's switch gears a little bit over from Vermont over to Pennsylvania. Kerry, can you give us an update on the situation in Pennsylvania and whether you feel like, you know, most students there are getting financial education at the high school level, or if you feel like it's only the lucky few and is there, you know, kind of like this feeling of a local movement in Pennsylvania for financial education at this time.

Kerry Woodward: Yeah, it's a great question and I guess I'll, in my answer, I'll be drawing a distinction between Pennsylvania and then our environment, which is Philadelphia. So in the Next Gen Personal Finance state of financial education report that was published last month, the research showed that 63% of students in Pennsylvania have access to a fully dedicated personal class. But in my own Philadelphia specific landscape analysis that I performed last summer of our 72 high schools here, only 20% of public high schools offered a dedicated personal finance class. And this is almost precisely in line with another part of the Next Gen Personal Finance research, which showed that high schools with greater than 75% of students who are Blackj and Hispanic are half as likely to guarantee a personal finance class than in schools in which 25% or fewer of students are Black or Hispanic. So there are some real inequities in the way personal finance is being offered in our state and in our city, and we're absolutely seeing that national trend play out right here in Philadelphia. 

This year in Philadelphia, we have 1,251 students taking a dedicated personal finance class for the very first time. And we're expecting to double that number to 2,500 students next year, which effectively triples the number of high schools offering a dedicated personal finance class in the city of Philadelphia.

I'm seeing in Harrisburg, which is our state capital, that there's active bipartisan legislation that looks very likely to pass in the next legislative session that would make personal finance a required class in every high school in our commonwealth by '25, '26. 

[00:12:23] Challenges Faced when Advocating

Yanely Espinal: I wonder what you all have experienced around challenges or things that you might be maybe have gotten in the way and have been kind of holding us back from getting this done a little bit more quickly. Obviously locally for you all, but you know also, also nationally as well, if you have ideas or input.

Courtney Poquette: As you were talking, I thought, oh my goodness. I'm seeing parallels between what's happening in the state of Vermont right now and what was happening in my school when I was just trying to get the course as a requirement in my own school.

And so I remember I went to the principal at the time, And I said, personal finance, the kids love it. It's, it's great. I really wanna have this as a requirement. And he said, oh no, we can't do that because then everybody's gonna want their own requirement. And that's exactly what's happening in Vermont right now because if we allow personal finance, then we're opening the door to everything and we can't have too many requirements because then the students won't be able to graduate in four years. And so I'm just seeing the connections between my own school and the advocacy that had to happen there. And then what's happening at the state level too. Um, and so it is, it is important and everybody that I talk to agrees that it's important, but then how do we fit it in? And then what happens to everybody else who wants to require classes in everything else?

Kerry Woodward: Courtney, we had the exact same thing happen in our latest iteration of the bill here in Pennsylvania. The first bill on this that I know of that was filed in recent history was in 2007. So it's really been a journey here and multiple bills have been, you know, brought up and gone away and brought up and gone away. And the current bill, we were right on the cusp of getting it passed last year. And then there was this like giant made up number as the estimated cost of implementation that nobody could really explain how it was getting calculated, but they had some, you know, somebody somewhere had put some number to paper on the cost per school, and it was just insane as, don't quote me something like 50 million, which we said, you know, no, this couldn't be right.

We're doing it here in Philadelphia. It's not costing that at all. So, thankfully that's fallen away. But like you said, Courtney, teachers are saying, you know, if we do this, what's next on required coursework? Like how, how many people are gonna be coming and lobbying for this sort of like, new required content? Why this, why not other things. And the main concerns now that I think are being addressed are, Not wanting to overburden already overwhelmed to educators. We've already talked about that issue. And teachers and our teachers unions were rightly concerned that this would be plopped on the plate of existing teachers and get in the way of prep time and other really important planning time in their schedules.

And then secondly our state had just redefined graduation requirements roughly three years ago, and it was kind of a seismic shift here in our state. And so there was a reluctance to now introduce a new graduation requirement so soon after that seismic shift just a few years ago. Everybody's raising reasonable concerns. And what the good news is, is I think we're having reasonable conversations and threading the needle. Whereas last year it, it felt as if it was just like a stalling technique to not take the action. Now it really feels like everybody's working together to make sure this gets done and make this work, which is great.

[00:15:35] What Could Be Done Better?

Yanely Espinal: Curious if you feel like these systems that are currently in place for kind of changing or improving upon education, do you feel like they've been working to create local change and education in a positive way and, and they're you know, put in place in a strong way, or do you feel like things could be done better? And if so, what do you feel like you wish could change to make it better?

Courtney Poquette: I can just start. I wish we would hear from more students like David, so I wish at the state level that there would be more opportunities for either former students, current students, to just be able to speak, and share what was valuable to them in their high school education. What do they wish they learned?

I know the students that are in my classes right now at our surrounding schools around Winooski. There isn't even a personal finance class that's offered, and my students are coming into my class and they're saying, can you believe that my, my friend at the school next door doesn't even know what credit is? And I had to explain it all to them. And then they were talking about, they went to visit a tech center school, and they were telling them all about like, you could put your money in a CD and get a higher interest rate, and they didn't even know it. Can you believe it, Ms. Poquette? And I, and I think David could probably chime in on this too, once the students leave my classroom, I had a, a former student email me the other day and said, I had no idea what an opportunity I had to learn that, and I didn't realize not everybody does. And so I think that that's something, the conversation that needs to happen too.

David Klinker: To add on to that, I do think that an opportunity for students to speak on it would be significant because we are the ones experiencing this firsthand. I care about, you know, issues in the world, but I've never felt, you know, that drive or passion to be an activist or go out and do this or, you know, hold up a sign on the sidewalk, you know? But this kind of advocacy just came naturally for me. I felt like after I got out of the class and I saw, you know, peers going to other schools just as Ms. Poquette mentioned, that didn't have the same opportunity for something that I felt was so basic and that should just be there for everyone. I just, I feel the needs to speak up about these things. So I think a space for students to talk about their firsthand experiences would kind of answer a lot of the questions or doubts that some people have out there. 

Kerry Woodward: I agree. The bottom line here is elevating an amplifying student voice and parent voice in the discussion. These are compelling voices for our legislators always. So I think that's the main takeaway for me too. And then I would also just share that strategically speaking, I think what Next Gen Personal Finance has done in putting really high quality curriculum and professional development materials out for teachers to do to make school level change is actually a really big piece of the puzzle.

I think that the outcomes that a high quality personal finance class can have on students knowledge and confidence is unimpeachable and bringing that data. Evidence to lawmakers makes it a very compelling conversation. I personally use the diagnostic assessment that Next Gen Personal Finance publishes at the beginning and end of each of our students' classes. And they had tremendous, tremendous, tremendous growth in their content knowledge. And then also even better growth in their confidence. When we started our class, only 35% of students self-reported that they thought they would achieve financial stability after hi high school. And by the end of only one semester of personal finance, that number was 66%. It was almost double. 

So students are seeing this change and being this change, and I think all of you that are teaching this at. Schools sharing your stories and your student data and your student's growth. Again, it's indisputable the impact that this has on students, and I think that school level change is going to be kind of the ground swell that we need to get these laws passed.

I'm really thankful that we're able to provide this and that Next Gen's given us such good resources to do.

Courtney Poquette: So in 2018, when we were doing the initial round of trying to get this through to the legislature, my students said they all wanted to come with me to promote this, and we couldn't do that. But instead I had them just write down what they were glad they learned. Yeah. And we held them all up. So we have data, but then also just having the voice of students is an important part too.

[00:19:54] Advocacy Ideas

Yanely Espinal: I think that we know that like data can, you know, change people's minds, but stories change people's hearts and at the end of the day when you're sitting in a room full of people, who have children, have little cousins, have nieces and nephews, have neighbors, kids, and like these, these, this next generation, the future is, these are our kids. So I think when we shine the spotlight on stories, we're able to really get to people in a completely different way then when we share statistics and percentage of gold standard schools and silver standard. I mean, look, the data is important at the end of the day, lawmakers are looking for data because they can't make decisions that are not data backed. But at the end of the day, the stories are the things that really shine and that kind of bring people to get to the place where they're so motivated to change. My last question is really about like how to succeed. What ideas, kind of you have, what you've already done, and anything that you feel like you could impart on people who are here listening in who may be inspired to take action themselves, maybe in their own communities.

I recently worked with an assistant superintendent here in Philadelphia, and I loved his approach. He said to the powers that be, tell me why not. He just insisted. He opened the conversation. He said, my vision is that every student in my learning network will take a semester of personal finance. Tell me why not. And he just let everybody air the concerns and he just systemically addressed each of their concerns and worked together with them to remove each barrier. So I think, asking why not, and then helping to answer each of those questions and concerns. And it may, it may be a tough question. It might be something that really needs, it might be a real sticking point in a school level, assistant level, a state level. But if you don't ask the why not, then you won't know your, you know, your opposition's concern and you can't address their concerns. So I think really being candid and making sure that you have that understanding is vital in getting to the next level of success.

Courtney Poquette: As far as the media piece, I think that that's important just to get the message out there. So, I mean, starting small within our school is one thing that I did to try to just increase awareness. Like, Hey, here's what's happening in my classroom, right? Because we're also busy and we're in our own little bubbles. And so I wanted to first increase awareness in our school. And so I used to do like financial literacy trivia months. I'm known to like walk around school in money outfits and embarrass myself in those ways, just so that way people know, Hey, there's a personal finance class at the end of the hallway.

So I did that in our own school. But then, Next Gen, I'm crediting you for this because there was a change Maker Summit a few years ago, and one of the things that I took from that is don't be afraid to tell your story. Don't be afraid to reach out to the media. 

We had the media come in and so we first had like a little story run on the local news, and then once somebody sees that story, then the local newspaper wanted to write an article and then somebody else wanted to write an article. Like that process is happening right now. So we, we had an article in the local paper, and then actually there was a Norwegian film crew that reached out and said, Hey, can we come to the school? And so it's just, it spreads the message that way. And so I think just reaching out and saying to your, either your local newspaper, Hey, do you wanna come in and do a story? Like obviously talk with your school and see what the process is for that. But I think getting people into your classroom is, is great. And then the, again, the students tell the story. 

David Klinker: I think you know great ways to get us fired up to tell those stories, you know, naturally. Not even like having to give us extra credit or something. It's just, making the class fun. And that's something that Ms. Poquette did every single day with the money outfits and everything. I can, like, I have a vision of like one with, there's a hat and a big dollar sign on it. It's ingrained in my brain forever. But it was great, it made it fun. It made us, it made me like look forward to like, I want to be in that class. She had pictures of people who would like win awards from her business classes and stuff. And I was like, I wanna graduate and have my picture there, you know. There'd be a song playing every time we walked in that related to money and had funny money lyrics. And it like, it might not even be about what we're learning in the class, but those things will be attached to it. We'll, remember that funny song and then also, oh, this is how I improved my credit score.

That makes us students just naturally just wanna talk about it, even if we're just going home to our parents and just be like, my personal finances class was so cool. What are you guys doing? What's your credit score? Can I help you? I don't know. Like, it's just, those conversations will come naturally. I feel like students actually can really enjoy a school that just has to be a fun and nurturing space for them to be. And a large part of it that would really hit home, as we all agree, is if the students can really speak about it. 

Yanely Espinal: What a powerful last word from David with that being said, just a special warm thank you, a heartfelt thank you to Kerry to Courtney, and to David for spending an hour with us and just dropping wisdom and really being able to kind of give us a little bit of motivation and inspiration as we continue to advocate for more access to financial education in our local communities. Thank you all so much. Thank you. Happy Financial Literacy Month everybody.

Tim Ranzetta: A few final housekeeping items before we go. We'll put links to the resources mentioned the resources that Courtney, David and Kerry mentioned. We'll put those in the show notes. You can find www.ngpf.org/podcast better yet, subscribe on iTunes SoundCloud, Stitcher, or wherever you get your podcast. Thank you Ren Makino for producing the podcast and the show notes every week, make it easy for you to know what was discussed and when it was discussed. If you enjoyed this podcast, please go ahead and leave a review that ensures that we reach a larger audience, especially with incredible advocates such as Courtney, David and Kerry so on behalf of them, I want to thank you again for tuning in to this NGPF podcast. Have a wonderful week.

About the Authors

Tim Ranzetta

Tim's saving habits started at seven when a neighbor with a broken hip gave him a dog walking job. Her recovery, which took almost a year, resulted in Tim getting to know the bank tellers quite well (and accumulating a savings account balance of over $300!). His recent entrepreneurial adventures have included driving a shredding truck, analyzing executive compensation packages for Fortune 500 companies and helping families make better college financing decisions. After volunteering in 2010 to create and teach a personal finance program at Eastside College Prep in East Palo Alto, Tim saw firsthand the impact of an engaging and activity-based curriculum, which inspired him to start a new non-profit, Next Gen Personal Finance.

Ren Makino

Ren started interning at NGPF in 2014, and worked part-time through high school and college. With his knowledge growing alongside NGPF, he joined the team to work full-time after graduating from college in 2020. He is also the producer of the NGPF podcast. During his free time, he likes to try out coffees from different roasters across the world.

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