United Way partners with Magaziner, legislators on financial literacy campaign

PROVIDENCE – United Way of Rhode Island President and CEO Cortney Nicolato has joined state General Treasurer Seth Magaziner and members of the R.I. General Assembly in the creation of a fund named Financially Fit Rhode Island to help pay for statewide financial literacy instruction for students from kindergarten through high school.

“When only a third of Rhode Island’s high school seniors receive personal finance instruction in school before graduation, we can be certain that many are not prepared to make some of the most important financial decisions of their lives,” Nicolato said in a statement from Magaziner’s office. “By investing in education today, we can change the future of every young Rhode Islander by helping them manage their personal finances, avoid predatory products, and build stable futures for themselves and their families.”

The fund will be seeded with multiyear support from Fidelity Investments, HarborOne Bank, BayCoast Bank and the CFA Society of Providence. So far, the fund has received $50,000 in initial pledges from financial-services firms.

Administrated by United Way, the fund will award grants to education foundations, nonprofits and school districts to support educators, with funding available for professional-development opportunities and for financial literacy course material.

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Organizers said the fund will launch when state legislation is approved to guarantee access to financial literacy education, expected during the General Assembly’s current session. They said 36 states now guarantee access to personal finance education in public schools, but Rhode Island currently is not among them.

Sen. Sandra Cano, D-Pawtucket, and Rep. Joseph McNamara, D-Warwick, chairman of the House Committee on Health Education and Welfare, have introduced bills on the matter. The legislation would require all public high schools to offer a class that includes personal finance beginning in the 2019-2020 school year. It also would require students to demonstrate proficiency in personal finance by the 2021-2022 school year.

Sen. Hanna M. Gallo, D-Cranston, chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Education, also backs the legislation, saying: “This fund will serve an urgent need to support educators as they prepare to help students with basic skills in personal finance.”

Among the six New England states, Rhode Island has the highest percentage of people living below the federal poverty line and the second-highest percentage of “unbanked” households. Average retirement savings in Rhode Island are also below the national average, according to organizers.

“Teaching students the skills they need to manage their personal finances responsibly leads to greater economic opportunity throughout their lives,” Magaziner said.

Rick Metters, vice president of Rhode Island Regional Public Affairs and Government Relations at Fidelity Investments, said, “At Fidelity, we believe in the benefits of learning personal finance concepts in school and have invested our time, resources and expertise to help bring personal finance education to students and professional development to teachers in Rhode Island.”

Nicholas Christ, president and CEO of BayCoast Bank, said, “This is an important statewide education initiative that will have a lasting positive impact on our future Rhode Islanders.”

Al Cumplido, program chairman of the CFA Society of Providence, said, “Education is a core pillar of what the CFA Society of Providence and the CFA Institute stand for.”

HarborOne Bank CEO James W. Blake added, “HarborOne recognizes how crucial it is that everyone, young people in particular, have a comprehensive financial education to be certain they use, save, invest and spend money wisely.”

Scott Blake is a PBN staff writer. Email him at Blake@PBN.com.