Ariel Community Academy

Arne Duncan speaking to Mellody Hobson about financial literacy at last year’s Global Future of Retirement Conference
Pensions & Investments | Bartomeu Amengual

PENSIONS & INVESTMENTS / Arne Duncan, John Rogers, Kurt Summers and Barbara Byrd-Bennett

Financial education for our nation’s youngest residents means much more than understanding the basic concepts of dollars and cents. As some defined benefit plans are increasingly being replaced, we have seen many hardworking men and women become their own portfolio managers. These days, financial education means empowerment and opportunity, entrepreneurship and a brighter economic future for all Americans.

In Chicago, we are doubling down on bridging the financial education gap from the classroom to the kitchen table.

Designated a “model city” by the President’s Advisory Council on Financial Capability for Young Americans, Chicago is forging a unique partnership with Mayor Rahm Emanuel, City Treasurer Kurt Summers, the Chicago Public Schools, the Chicago Public Library and more than 135 financial education providers to implement a coordinated approach to placing all residents on the road to financial empowerment.

In the past, the city and many of its partners have offered financial education programming and resources in some fashion, and did so in different ways with different purposes. Schools maintained different curriculums aimed at different target audiences and were in very few ways coordinated.

As a result, too many young Chicagoans lack the financial skills to manage money effectively. This leads to more expensive debt and missing out on greater savings opportunities and the chance to build wealth and assets.

An inventory of all city offerings illustrated that the foundation for a comprehensive financial education program exists in Chicago. Now, we begin working toward the goal of providing meaningful financial education for every child and family in the city of Chicago.

A first-of-its-kind citywide plan for making financial education resources more accessible to every Chicagoan aims to ensure all students and families are armed with the knowledge to make smart personal financial decisions.

More than learning how to manage student loans or understand credit scores, greater financial capability empowers us as citizens in a democracy. It allows us to better participate in policy debates that have the potential to shape our future for decades to come.

From banking and budgeting to investing and IRAs, these financial skills are far too important in today’s economy to overlook as a standard in our schools and in our own conversations at home.

We already see best practices throughout Chicago, in places like Ariel Community Academy, where students are challenged with real-world opportunities to manage portfolios and develop savings plans.

One shining example is Mario Gage, a 2006 Ariel graduate. At age 12, Mario started his own stock portfolio and was also named by the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago as its first-ever Money Smart Kid. Mario’s successes led him to choose a career in finance; he currently works at Ariel Investments in investor services.

There are many students across Chicago with talents and abilities similar to Mario’s, but have never been given the opportunity to explore them. The goal of this program is to change that. By implementing a new citywide plan for financial education, we want to see many more success stories like Mario’s emerge.

To get there, we must acknowledge that some of the most important influencers in financial education are our teachers. By providing the resources to build professional development in financial education content that is aligned to Illinois’ high standards, we will strengthen our learning community while encouraging students to be critical thinkers.

At the community level, financial education can lead to more jobs in underserved urban areas. Moreover, building these skills at an early age opens up a set of new career opportunities in financial services for young people in urban communities who have traditionally been underrepresented in these sectors. This could mean a seismic shift in the earning potential for a young person and his or her family.

Over three years, Chicago’s financial education plan will provide all students, families and community members with greater access to high-quality programs and support to help build skills that lead to informed and responsible financial decisions.

Chicago is committed to changing the way we address financial education and investing for all residents. For taking action to promote financial capability and empowerment, the president’s council recognizes Chicago as a model for other cities to look to in addressing these critical issues.

By embracing financial education as a value and introducing relevant curriculum at an early age, Chicago and all cities across the nation can not only bridge the financial capability gap, but also close it for good.