Tallahassee Democra⁠t⁠: Wha⁠t⁠ we all need ⁠t⁠o learn from Booker T. s⁠t⁠uden⁠t⁠s

By: The James Madison Institute / September 9, 2013

The James Madison Institute


September 9, 2013

Great fanfare surrounded the nationally-televised opening of the high school football season two weeks ago when No. 1 Booker T. Washington of Miami demolished No. 6 Norcross of Atlanta, 55-0. But a much quieter opening at Booker T. Washington High last year may have actually been more significant — especially to educators and financial planners concerned about the economic future of today’s youth.Last fall, Booker T. Washington became one of a handful of Florida high schools to open a credit union on campus for its students. The credit union is run by student tellers who receive training from the Dade County Federal Credit Union and supervision from the school’s career education faculty.But the student tellers make all the transactions. And they encourage their peers to open new accounts and make new deposits. As such, Booker T’s credit union not only offers practical work experience for student tellers (many of whom aspire to be accountants), but it also provides a way for all of the school’s students to learn the benefits of saving and financial planning.Economist Mark Schug of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee believes practical opportunities in wise money management are very much needed in today’s schools. Schug helped start an innovative charter school in Milwaukee for students interested in developing financial skills. And he believes such programs are especially important in inner-city neighborhoods where shady payday lenders usually outnumber reputable financial institutions.That an inner-city school named after Booker T. Washington would be among the first to open a student-run credit union is fitting. For the great African-American leader championed thrift and self-reliance as keys to economic ascendancy. And in Booker T’s day, school savings banks were actually quite common.In fact, the number of student depositors in school-based banks rose from roughly 28,000 in 1891 to 4.2 million in 1929, according to the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. But student participation declined markedly in the post-WWII era due to a growing emphasis on consumer spending. And by the late 1960s, school savings banks had largely disappeared from the American scene.One of the people now helping to revive school-based savings programs is Florida’s Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater. At the grand opening of a student credit union at Jacksonville’s Wolfson High last year, Atwater said, “As we educate and empower young people about financial situations, we are giving their generation a jump on achieving financial success.”Atwater sees school savings banks as part of a larger strategy to teach financial literacy to high school students after introducing them to the virtues of thrift and entrepreneurship during the middle school years. Earlier this year, the Florida Legislature passed a measure that adopts this progression.Moreover, Atwater recently sponsored a statewide student essay contest about the importance of saving. One teen winner, Eva Baker of Orange Park, said she learned the value of wise money management “while trapped on long car rides with my mother who insisted that we listen to Dave Ramsey.”So inspired was Eva by Ramsey’s financial advice (“after giving in and listening with my Mom”) that she started a web site,, to dispense thrift tips to her peers.Among other things, Eva’s site features advice on how to save for college, profiles of teen entrepreneurs, and frugal fashion tips that would make Macklemore smile. (The Seattle rapper’s infectious hit, “Thrift Shop,” reached #1 on the Billboard charts earlier this year.)Developments like these certainly offer hope that some young people today can avoid a misspent youth.But in an era of lagging job opportunities and growing student loan debt, we need for all young Americans to recapture Booker T. Washington’s appreciation for thrift and self-reliance. To that end, it’s a good thing the Miami high school that bears his name is helping to lead the way.William Mattox is a resident fellow at The James Madison Institute, a Florida-based public policy research and educational organization.