Floridians see personal finance class requirement as a positive for students

Residents of North Central Florida are optimistic about the potential impacts of a new law that requires a personal finance class for graduation.

Governor Ron DeSantis recently signed the measure that will require high school students to complete a half-credit course on personal finance before graduating.

The law seeks to rectify the lack of financial education in the state, as well as prepare students for the difficult economic challenges that may arise. The requirement will go into effect for ninth grade students entering the 2023-24 school year.

“I think I would have liked a class like this in high school,” said Putnam County resident Jenn Pearce. “When I got out of high school, there was no finance class to prepare me for the real world. Fight. I got into a lot of credit card debt. I got audited once when I was 20 because I messed up something on my taxes. It was a lot of trial and error.”

Under the law, the new personal finance class would teach financial skills such as balancing a checkbook, completing loan applications, calculating interest rates, disputing incorrect statements and calculating federal income taxes. It also requires instruction on how to understand the types of investments and the types of bank accounts that are offered.

The law made Florida the 11th state to adopt a financial education requirement as a stand-alone course, according to CNBC.

Duane Hayslett, 41, said he has tried to teach his two daughters, both enrolled at Buchholz High School in Gainesville, basic financial concepts.

“I went to sign a lease for my daughter, and she didn’t know much about anything as far as signing or anything like that,” Hayslett said. She said that she believes a financial education course would be helpful.

“It should be something that gives them a chance to get a sense of what to expect when they go out on their own,” Hayslett said.

Scott Chapman, 40, of Cedar Key, said he’s glad his daughters, ages 8 and 11, are benefiting from the change.

“I think it’s absolutely fantastic,” Chapman said. “Because for the last few years, it honestly seems to be, ‘Go rack up $150,000 in student debt, then figure it out and pay it off whenever, with interest. They don’t teach you about that in school.”

Chapman has bought and sold businesses throughout his life and has attributed his success to his extensive knowledge of financial planning. She said that while she teaches her daughters how to save, for example by letting them earn their own money walking dogs, a structured course would help them learn the basics, like what a credit score is and why it’s important.

The new personal finance class will replace one elective, changing the graduation requirement from eight elective credits to 7½.

The logistics of how the law will actually take shape in the classroom will be worked out as the state provides more information on the curriculum standards, according to Jackie Johnson, director of communications for the Alachua County Public Schools district.

Johnson said the board doesn’t have many concerns about that other than making sure there are enough qualified staff to deliver these courses.

“It’s always a concern that 67 districts are looking for teachers who are qualified to teach financial education at exactly the same time,” he said.

Mildred Russell, a member of the Alachua County School Board, said she doesn’t see any need to hire additional staff because of the many financial education programs that already exist.

They include the Buchholz High Academy of Entrepreneurship, which currently offers a broad curriculum in personal finance and business development as part of its specialized program.

Wendy Rosche, a teacher in the program, said she is willing to help implement these changes as they come along and would like to teach a personal finance class if she has room in her schedule.

“For me, it’s not just about making a budget; it’s really about race preparation,” she said. “It’s about the whole picture of taking the next step in life and thinking, ‘What do you want? What are your values?’”

Rosche said he helps orchestrate student participation in Junior Achievement, a program in which high school students visit local elementary schools to teach them financial concepts.

“I think kids always find this relevant,” he said. “They want to learn how to manage money. I have never seen a class that has not liked learning about financial education.”

Rosche said she hopes the class will also help college-bound teens make smart financial decisions at their chosen schools in terms of tuition and housing. The average student loan debt in Florida was $38,160 in 2020, according to the Education Data Initiative.

“We have a lot of people and a lot of resources to provide this for our kids,” Rosche said. “I’m optimistic.”

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