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Florida schools ponder how a half-credit financial literacy course will fit into their schedule

Topics to be covered in the financial literacy course include types of bank accounts, tax information, and how to complete a loan application.
Topics to be covered in the financial literacy course include types of bank accounts, tax information, and how to complete a loan application.

High school students in Florida will eventually have to learn about finances in order to graduate. Gov. Ron DeSantis has signed a bill mandating a semester course in personal financial literacy and money management.

“If they go the university route, postgraduate, any of that, they're still going to need these skills,” DeSantis said at a bill signing event at a charter school in Wesley Chapel. “If they go right into the workforce, they're still going to need these skills.”

Now, school districts are awaiting guidance from the state about how to implement the new curriculum.

The law will be phased in and eventually will require all Florida high school students to earn a half-credit on how to handle their money. Topics to be covered include types of bank accounts, tax information, and how to complete a loan application.

“The concern among superintendents is not with the financial literacy requirement, it’s with a continuing drop in the number of electives,” says Bill Montford, a former state senator who is CEO of the Florida Association of District School Superintendents.

Since the course is mandated, the new law reduces the amount of required elective credits from 8 to 7.5. “Students will have one half credit less to choose as an elective,” Montford says of classes students will have to give up in order take the new course. “It could be art, it could be music, it could be PE, it could be another advanced placement class, it could be another academic class of any nature.”

Montford says it’s too expensive for districts to enact a longer school day to accommodate more electives, and schools won’t know how to add the course until they get guidance from the Florida Department of Education.

First of all, let's make sure we've got enough teachers to teach it. Where does it fit into the schedule?” Montford asks. “Here's where the pinch really comes. When it gets to the school level, principals have to say, well, what will we not be teaching?”

“It's going to cause some unique problems for the masterboard schedulers,” says Aaron Standish, K-12 Financial Literacy Coordinator for Palm Beach County schools. “There's just no way around that. You have to find a way to now fit a one semester half credit course into your masterboard schedule.”

The Palm Beach district is a leader at incorporating age appropriate money lessons into all grade levels. Standish notes the legislature in 2019 started requiring districts to offer financial literacy as an elective since there wasn’t enough support to mandate it.

“This is the seventh year that this has been attempted,” Standish says of efforts to require money lessons. “The opposition to it has largely revolved around, how are schools going to fit this in their schedule?”

This year, supporters of the “Dorothy L. Hukill Financial Literacy Act” finally got it across the finish line. The bill is named for the late state senator who championed the cause until her death in 2018.

Speaking at the governor’s bill signing, Senate President Wilton Simpson said it’s the right time.

“With the rise of our gig workers, with the rise of student debt and things that can go wrong in lives at a young age that prevent our economy from growing,” Simpson said, “that prevent folks from coming out and starting businesses because they're in debt or buying their first home or starting any of those things, I think this is very important.”

Also at the bill signing, outgoing education commissioner Richard Corcoran said it’s critical to teach kids that a bad credit score can cost them a job, while compound interest can significantly boost their savings.

“A child who is 21 invests $200 a year till he's 30 and stops and does no more, and then there's a child that never invests until he's 30 and does $200 all the way till he's 68,” Corcoran said. “The difference in their amounts is the child that only did it for the 10 years starting at 21 has a million dollars more than the child who started at 30. Those are life impactful things that kids ought to know and ought to know well by the time they graduate from high school.”

The new law goes into effect for students entering high school as freshmen in the fall of 2023.

Copyright 2022 WFSU. To see more, visit WFSU.

Gina Jordan