SOUTH FLORIDA SUN SENTINEL
By Susan Jacobson
Feb 23, 2015
Science, math and English are important, but students in Florida also need to learn how to manage money before they graduate from high school.
So say advocates of a bill before the Legislature that would mandate a stand-alone, financial-literacy course for public-school students.
The proposal is the third step in a plan that began in 2013, when a new law required that economics classes include financial literacy. Now, state Sen. Dorothy Hukill, R-Port Orange, sponsor of SB 92, wants to go a step further.
“You’re giving them the skills, preparing them for the real world so they can take charge of their financial future and be better prepared for the decisions we all have to make,” Hukill said. “People always complain that there’s a disconnection between education and the real world. Well, here’s a connection.”
A similar bill (HB 29) has been filed in the House by Rep. Heather Fitzhagen, R-Fort Myers, and Rep. Manny Diaz Jr., R-Hialeah Gardens. Both have bipartisan support and the endorsement of various business and education groups.
Many students at Coral Glades High School’s finance academy are already taking a course similar to the ones being proposed, in addition to the personal finance portion of economics.
But right now the class is optional. Steven Carruth, principal of the Coral Springs school, said it would be problematic to make it mandatory for all students.
“Then they would lose an option to take an AP course, a dual enrollment course or a vocational course,” he said. “I don’t disagree with the teaching of it. It’s vital, but teachers do embed it in the economics classes.”
Seventeen states, including Florida, require personal-financial instruction in high school, but only five — Missouri, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Utah and Virginia — require a stand-alone course, according the Council for Economic Education in New York.
The Florida Department of Education estimates that a dedicated course would cost between $116,581 and $8,143,344 the first year, depending on whether online materials or books are used. This is the second year that Hukill has tried to get her bill passed.
Kathi Gundlach, president of the Palm Beach County Classroom Teachers association, said financial literacy classes should not be required.
“More and more classes are being mandated, and they’re usually unfunded,” she said. “We don’t have any money for books or to do it. Financial literacy is already included in the course work.”
The consequences of financial illiteracy came into stark focus during the Great Recession as many people found themselves underwater on their mortgages or lost their homes to foreclosure. Some ruined their credit or were forced into bankruptcy, hurting their chances in the job market, where some companies use credit history to assess potential employees.
Student debt is another albatross. In Florida, 53 percent of students at public and nonprofit private colleges and universities graduated in 2013 with an average debt of more than $24,000, a study by the Institute for College Access & Success found.
Some critics of a mandatory class say parents, not schools, should teach children money management. But a study by the Council for Economic Education found a third of parents are more comfortable talking to their children about smoking, drugs and bullying than money.
A 2011 survey conducted by investment firm Charles Schwab seems to support the need for more education. Although 77 percent of participating teens said they knew how to manage money, only 38 percent said they understood how to establish good credit, 35 percent could balance a checkbook, 31 percent knew what a credit score was, 22 percent understood income taxes and 17 percent knew what a 401(k) plan was.
“If we don’t educate students on the forward end, we’re going to pay for it on the back end the way we did with the mortgage and home-loan crisis,” said Mark Anderson, a lobbyist for the Florida Council on Economic Education.