Residents across north central Florida are optimistic about the potential impacts of a new law requiring a personal finance class for graduation.
Gov. Ron DeSantis recently signed the measure that will require high school students to complete a half credit course on personal finance before graduation.
The law seeks to rectify a lack of financial literacy in the state, as well as prepare students for the difficult economic challenges that may lay ahead. The requirement will take effect for ninth grade students entering the 2023-24 school year.
“I think I could have used a class like this in high school,” Jenn Pearce, a resident of Putnam County said. “When I got out of high school, there was no financial class that prepared me for the real world. I struggled. I got into a lot of credit card debt. I got audited once in my 20s because I messed something up in my taxes. It was a lot of trial and error.”
According to the law, the new personal finance class would teach financial skills such as balancing a checkbook, completing loan applications, computing interest rates, contesting incorrect billing statements and computing federal income tax. It also calls for instruction about understanding types of investments and types of bank accounts offered.
The law made Florida the 11th state to adopt a financial literacy requirement as a stand-alone course, according to CNBC.
Duane Hayslett, 41, said he’s tried to teach basic financial concepts to his two daughters, who are both enrolled at Buchholz High School in Gainesville.
“I went to cosign a lease for my daughter, and she didn’t know much about anything when it came to cosigning or anything like that,” Hayslett said.He said he believes a financial literacy course would be most helpful.
“It should be something that gives them the opportunity to get an idea 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, who are 8 and 11, will benefit from the change.
“I think it’s absolutely fantastic,” Chapman said. “Because for the past number of years, honestly it seems to be, ‘go rack up $150,000 in student debt, then figure it out and pay it whenever — with interest. You’re not taught about that in school.”
Chapman has bought and sold businesses throughout his life and has credited his success to having a strong understanding of financial planning. He said he while is teaching his daughters about saving – for example, by allowing them to make their own money through dog walking – a structured course would help them learn the basics, like what a credit score is and why it matters.
The new personal finance class will replace an elective, changing the graduation requirement of eight elective credits to 7½.
Logistics on how the law will actually take shape in classrooms will be worked out as the state provides more information on 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 it other than ensuring there’s enough qualified personnel to teach these courses.
“That’s always a concern that 67 districts are all looking for teachers who are qualified to teach financial literacy at exactly the same time,” she 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 existing financial literacy programs already in place.
They include Buchholz High’s Academy of Entrepreneurship, which currently provides a wide curriculum on personal finance and business development as part of its magnet program.
Wendy Rosche, a teacher in the program, said she is willing to help implement these changes as they come and would like to teach a personal finance class if she has room in her schedule.
“To me, it’s not just about budgeting; it’s really about career readiness,” she said. “It’s about the whole picture of taking your next step in life and thinking, ‘What do you want? What are your values?’”
Rosche said she helps to orchestrate student involvement in Junior Achievement, a program in which high schoolers visit local elementary schools to teach them financial concepts.
“I think kids always find this relevant,” she said. “They want to learn how to manage money. I’ve never seen a class that didn’t love learning about financial literacy.”
Rosche said she hopes the class will also help teenagers who are looking into college make smart financial choices in the schools they pick in terms of tuition and housing. The average student loan debt in Florida was $38,160 in 2020, according to 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.”