Arizona Treasurer Kimberly Yee

Arizona Treasurer Kimberly Yee.

Arizona State Treasurer Kimberly Yee recalled the time she spoke to a group of incoming freshmen at a university orientation 12 years ago. When she asked for a show of hands to see how many students received personal financial education in high school — and not a single hand went up — she said she realized something alarming.

“We don’t provide kids that basic life skill before they actually get out into the real world. That means we have a lot of adults who are struggling to understand money management because we never taught it in schools,” Yee told the West Valley View.

Yee, who was working under the state treasurer at the time, went on to become a state legislator in 2010 and started sponsoring bills to affect financial education.

To encourage students to enroll in personal finance courses, Yee said, “I created a bill that said you can have a seal on your high school diploma that says you’re proficient in financial literacy.”

But that wasn’t enough, she said.

So, when Yee was elected Arizona treasurer at the beginning of this year, she continued her efforts.

“I thought, ‘Well, I’m state treasurer now. This is January of 2019. Let’s get this done,’” Yee said.

In the first 100 days of her administration, Yee created Arizona’s first Financial Literacy Task Force and advanced legislation requiring financial education be taught in high school during the semester of economics required for graduation.

With this, students will graduate understanding the basic skills of personal money management, including how to spend, how to save, understanding credit, what it means to have an interest level, and the consequences of loans.

While financial education will be a requirement starting this academic year, Yee said school districts have a say in how and what they teach.

“We left that flexible for the local school districts, which is what they asked for. Each individual school district has its own elected school board, and the independent school boards want to decide their own curriculum. We say, ‘Teach it.’ They decide what.”

Yee hopes the initiative is a step closer toward financial freedom for the youth, she said. According to her, 1 in 8 millenials have debts in collections and 39% of millennial women don’t pay their bills on time.

“These numbers really are very telling about where our young population is, and we really have to counter them,” she said.

The 17-member Financial Literacy Task Force, chaired by Yee, will continue to focus on K-12 education while exploring areas for improvement in other vulnerable population subgroups, including college students, single-parent households, senior citizens, veterans and military families.

“We focused on education in this first round, and I feel that we really need to focus on those vulnerable families — by just getting a grasp of who is the population that we need to help, and then what are those areas that we can focus on is really our next step,” Yee said.

“Hopefully, we’ll get that done and we’ll have a healthier financial future for all of these groups.”