Olney Charter High School in Philadelphia is a pretty normal school, but Dan LaSalle, who is no ordinary teacher, teaches no ordinary class.
“That’s the day from the first day they walk into the classroom, the first day they enter, it is the knowledge that they can become millionaires and that we want them to be and that I’m going to continue to bother them until they are millionaires,” said LaSalle
Wait, what? Where was the millionaire class when I was in high school?
LaSalle saw a nationwide problem. According to Standard and Poors, the US has a finacial literacy rate of 57% which ranks just a little better than the country of Botswana.
So he started a personal finance class at Olney, but it’s a little different.
“Every student is guaranteed at least $100,” said LaSalle
“Oh, $1,700,” said Daniel Ruiz on how much he earned in the class last semester.
“So, in the past, we’ve had some kids earn $5,000 or more,” said LaSalle
LaSalle gives his students jobs and pays them. And the jobs can be anything. The only requirement is that they complete them and that they make the school or community a better place.
Katianna Figueroa and Chris Olivera founded a student organization, Students Speak Out, at Olney. They haven’t figured out how much they’ll get paid yet, but they do know what they want to do with the money.
“I know that college is very expensive,” said Figueroa.
“I want to go to school for nursing, which I know is really expensive and it’s kind of like my goal and my dream, so I know that’s going to cost a lot of money,” said Olivera
Not going into debt to pay for college is huge. Americans have amassed more than a trillion dollars in student loans. While it’s impossible to attribute all of that to Americans being financially illiterate, it’s clearly part of the problem.
And when parents aren’t financially literate, they often pass that down to their kids.
“They get their paycheck every week and they spend it on whatever they would like or what they need and I don’t want to be part of that,” said Figuero.
“My parents like don’t know anything. I think my dad just got his first credit card a little bit ago and I kept telling him, don’t spend a lot on your credit card. Buy small things so you can pay it off really fast because you’ll be in debt and that interest is crazy,” said Olivera.
Enter LaSalle. He along with teacher Christopher Bishop manage the classes, the paychecks and everything that goes along with it.
“So they open checking and savings accounts, they get real money. By the end of the year they’ll have their own retirement accounts set up,” said Bishop.
“There is no strings attached to this money, “ said LaSalle.
That’s another part of the class. Students can do whatever they want with the money. At the beginning they find the students will spend it on fast food, movies or whatever, but by the end, they see a big difference.
In class today they’re learning about why it’s a better idea to buy index funds, a piece of the entire stock market, as opposed to individual stocks. They’ll also learn about the different ways to save for retirement, emergency funds, and other helpful financial habits.
“So they can eventually mimic the practices of what wealthy people do. Living below your means, paying yourself first, investing in low-cost mutual funds, dollar-cost averaging,” said LaSalle.
Dan thinks this class isn’t hard to replicate, if teachers can find grants as he did to pay students.
“If there is a funding source for a school, the redistribution of paychecks is easy,” said LaSalle
And if more schools started teaching students how to use money, that could put a huge dent in some of our country's personal finance issues.