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A lot of students are entering adulthood, it seems, without a firm grasp of basic financial matters such as securing a loan, balancing a checkbook, juggling credit cards or saving for retirement.
Senator Chris Gebhard (R-48) hopes to change that with a bill designed to add financial literacy to the state’s high school curriculum.
“In the near future, I plan to introduce legislation to require completion of a half-credit economics and personal finance course as a graduation requirement in Pennsylvania,” Gebhard wrote in a memorandum to the state Senate, dated Dec. 1, 2022. “From daily purchases to long-term financial planning, becoming proficient at money management is a critical skill all Pennsylvanians need for success. This legislation will give the Commonwealth’s children the education they need on pragmatic monetary issues like credit and credit scores, savings and investments, and college, automobile, and home loans.”
Senate Bill 647, authored by Gebhard, currently has 20 cosponsors and broad bipartisan support. The bill was sent to the Senate Education Committee on April 21.
“It’s been a priority for us, probably a No. 1 priority in my office,” Gebhard told LebTown on April 24. “We think it’s going to be of great benefit to the children of Pennsylvania.”
Gebhard said a similar bill passed the Senate in 2022 but didn’t make it to the House floor. This year, he said, he thinks the bill will move quickly through both houses of the state Legislature and onto Gov. Josh Shapiro’s desk.
“It is scheduled to run in the Ed Committee next week,” he said. “Then it will go on the Senate schedule … and our leadership has said they want to move on this quickly.”
He hopes to see it move on to House by the end of May, Gebhard said.
“I feel very good about our game plan, not only to move it through the Senate but also to move it through the House and hopefully on to Gov. Shapiro,” he said.
‘Poor financial decisions’
According to Gebhard’s memorandum, “the content of the course will be in line with the standards established by the second edition of the Voluntary National Content Standards in Economics and the 2013 National Standards for Financial Literacy, as developed by the Council for Economic Education.”
The course of study will include, at a minimum, explanations of the true cost of credit, choosing and managing a credit card, borrowing money for an automobile or other large purchase, home mortgages, credit scoring and credit reports, and planning and paying for postsecondary education.
Gebhard said a casual look at the state of America today is enough to motivate interest in the bill.
“It’s not very hard to figure out … look at the financial health of the American public,” he said. “Americans have historically made very poor financial decisions. When you analyze that, it almost always comes down to the fact that there has been very little financial education available to folks over the last 25 years.”
Fewer than 15 percent of Pennsylvania school districts offer a course on the subject, he said.
“This has always been something I’ve had a personal interest in,” Gebhard said. “I was blessed to come from a family where these issues were always discussed. I got a lot of this information at home.”
Not all students are so lucky, he added.
“We talked to more and more stakeholders in both the academic world and the financial world,” Gebhard said. “People thought this was an amazingly good idea and would be of immense use to students as they went out into the adult world.”
He laughed and added, “No offense to biology and calculus and classes like that, but we want to teach students topics and skills that they’ll use every day of their life. … These are skills they will use when they buy their groceries, when they’re buying a car, when they’re getting a mortgage or getting a credit card.”
If passed, the bill would amend the Public School Code, which was enacted in Pennsylvania in 1949.
‘Easy to implement’
The current draft version of the bill directs the state Department of Education to “provide resource information on economics, economic education and personal financial literacy to educators and public and private schools and organizations,” and to “provide for the distribution … of model curriculum materials and other available resources, including economic education partnership programs, on economic education and personal financial literacy, including the basic principle involved with earning, spending, saving and investing money.”
The draft bill also directs the department to “consult with multiple organizations specializing in financial literacy education in developing the model curriculum and educational materials” and “develop a model curriculum and a list of education materials which a school entity or nonpublic school may use in providing the course.”
The consensus among educators is that a financial literacy curriculum would be fairly easy to implement statewide, Gebhard said.
“This is something a lot of districts have been looking at,” he explained.
The original bill called for a year-long course in money matters, Gebhard said. The bill this year – revised after discussions with educators, he said – reduces that to a half-credit course, lasting just one semester at any point during a student’s high school career.
“We asked them to come to the table … to help us make tweaks and changes to it and get them onboard,” he said. “We’ve been negotiating with them for about five months. We’re about 99% of the way there, and we’re getting excited.”
The bill incorporates the “basic structure of the curriculum,” he noted, but doesn’t get overly specific on the details.
“I wanted to be respectful and maintain local control in terms in implementing this. So we did not build a lot of restrictions into the bill,” he said. Instead, the bill provides curriculum guidelines and gives each district room to “hammer out the details.”
“The Philadelphia city school district is certainly different from a school district in Clinton County,” Gebhard explained. “I wanted to be mindful of that, so each district can put their own stamp on the curriculum.”
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