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Rhinelander High School students need to take a personal financial literacy course to graduate. That will soon be the requirement for all Wisconsin high school students.

Katie Thoresen

Two groups of four students sit at tables facing the front of the classroom.

Their hands twitch near the buzzers and wait for the next question to pop up on the screen before them.

“Multiple choice. It’s an invisible and unofficial barrier that sometimes prevents women and some minorities,” Brandon Karaba with People’s State Bank doesn’t even finish reading the question before a student buzzes in with the correct answer.

The Rhinelander High School students in Anita Casperson’s class are doing a mock Finance and Investment Challenge Bowl [FICB].

Some of them will be participating in the Northwoods Regional Tournament at Nicolet College this week. Karaba was visiting the class before winter break to help them prepare.

The top two teams will head to the state Championship in Madison.

The School District of Rhinelander has sent at least one team to the state championships every year, for nearly 10 years.

“It can be really competitive, but it can be a lot of fun. I help coach the varsity boys’ basketball team. There’s a couple of guys that are on teams and after the competition last year we had practice. They couldn’t talk enough about it. It really is a fun atmosphere and a fun thing to do,” Karaba told the class.

Recently retired teacher Patrick Kubeny often led the teams at the FICB. He helped build the financial literacy program at Rhinelander High School, including making personal finance a required course for students.

“Every kid does need to eat. The kid needs to exercise to have a healthy life. They need to understand their finances,” said Kubeny.

It took several administrations over his 30 years at the high school, but eventually Kubeny and the finance department were able to convince the administrators and school board several years ago to make a money management course a requirement.

Students like junior Payton McCue appreciate the lessons.

“I think there's a lot of good insight. It's very helpful in your actual life. It teaches you a lot about taxes and budgeting and everything you need to know,” said McCue.

Many students feel strongly enough about it, that six students from Kubeny’s classes last year went to Madison to testify before the legislature on why these kinds of classes should be a requirement for all high school students in the state.

Aiden Ostermann, also a junior, was one of those students.

“We were there, all the parents and people that were supporting it, lobbying for it. They definitely all agreed that they think that personal finance should be required,” said Ostermann. “They were arguing for one year actually, so our half semester here is like par for the rest of them.”

Kubeny was proud to see the students testify.

Rhinelander High School teacher Pat Kubeny testifies before the Assembly Education Committee.
Wisconsin Eye
Rhinelander High School teacher Pat Kubeny testifies before the Assembly Education Committee.

“I will tell you that some of those legislators told us when those students were testifying, one gentleman in particular, said listen, ‘I came in here today thinking that was no way I was going to support this. After listening to your testimony here today, I have changed my mind, I am going to support this bill.’ So that, I mean, that was goosebumps for me,” said Kubeny.

Kubeny said it was overwhelmingly supported by both parties. Even still, passing the law wasn’t smooth sailing.

Some lawmakers believed the course was an important one for students but didn’t support it because it would put another burden on districts that already struggle for funding and staffing.

Kubeny says he understands that struggle and wishes lawmakers would have included funding with bill the passage.

But he says there’s organizations out there like Next Gen Personal Finance or Economics Wisconsin that support schools and teachers offering financial literacy courses.

“Then you have all the locals like the banks, credit unions, and insurance companies, they're all willing to jump in, pull up their sleeves and help,” said Kubeny.

At the end of the day, Kubeny feels it’s important for students to have the basics of money management to help them make good decisions as they head out into the world.

“It's different for kids today. The decisions that they make financially starting off are going to be magnified a hundredfold when you were their age, a lot of you didn't have access to some of the other financial decisions that they do, for example, in Bitcoin or payday loan stores there's so many more pitfalls and traps for someone that's not financially literate,” said Kubeny.

The new law will require Wisconsin high school students to complete at least a half credit of personal financial literacy in order to graduate.

The requirement starts for the graduating class of 2028.

Katie Thoresen is WXPR's News Director/Vice President.
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