A Connecticut bill would include financial literacy in graduation requirements
While introducing mandates is often controversial, one proposal in the Connecticut General Assembly this year has the support of Democrats and Republicans alike, students and teachers, and banks and credit unions: requiring financial literacy education in high school.
Brian Orenstein, president and CEO of Charter Oak Federal Credit Union, wrote in submitted testimony on the bill that “as we all work to break the grip of the COVID pandemic, we have faced two grim financial realities”: There has never been a more important time for people to possess basic financial literacy, and states that don’t require such coursework “turn a blind eye to lingering social inequities and abide the widening rich-poor gap.”
Writing in support of the bill, one Ledyard High School student said she has seen people “completely lost on how to handle themselves when it comes to personal finance.” That includes her brother, who she said got aid from their parents on budgeting and taxes, but others don’t get that help.
At Lewis S. Mills High School in Burlington, the Class of 2023 is the first for which students have to take a semester course in financial literacy as a graduation requirement. Business teacher Barbara Angelicola-Manzolli, who applied for a grant to launch the elective in 2007 and pushed for it to be a requirement, wants to see this happen statewide.
“Throughout the years, I have heard from countless students about how impactful this class was in their lives,” she wrote. “The confidence they had starting out on solid financial footing made them want to reach out to me and thank me.”
The Education Committee introduced a bill that would make half a credit of personal financial management and financial literacy a high school graduation requirement in Connecticut, starting with classes graduating in 2027. It consequently decreases the credits available from electives from three to 2.5.
Most of the dozens of people who submitted testimony wrote in support, though others voiced concern about further limiting student choice and feel this should be a matter of local control.
Connecticut Department of Education spokesperson Eric Scoville said the department doesn’t track how many and which school districts have financial literacy as a graduation requirement. But he said better course data will be available in June.
The bill passed out of committee March 10 on a bipartisan 39-2 vote, and Education Committee Co-Chair Rep. Jeff Currey, D-East Hartford, said he is “confident that we are going to see this come up for a vote in the full House and Senate. We’re still ironing out the details to what it looks like.”
He said committee leadership would like to allow financial literacy to fall under the graduation requirement of nine credits in the humanities.
Currey said with 39 bills passed out of the Education Committee plus bills passed out of 25 other committees and less than six weeks left in the session, legislators will work on consolidating bills. He hopes this doesn’t get combined with a more controversial proposal.
The Office of Fiscal Analysis noted the bill results “in a potential cost to local and regional school districts” starting next fiscal year.
“Costs to districts will depend on whether they must hire additional staff to teach the course, and if any, how many staff they must hire,” the fiscal note states. “Average salary plus fringe costs for a full-time teacher is approximately $100,000.”
OFA added that if a district could train a current employee and fit the course within their schedule, “costs could be substantially less.”
“I think it would be irresponsible of me not to recognize that yes, we do in fact have a teacher shortage in a number of areas, and so requiring this could be seen as an unfunded mandate,” Currey said. “But we know we have partners in the nonprofit world that already have existing curriculum.”
The bill analysis from the nonpartisan Office of Legislative Research notes that current law already allows the Connecticut State Department of Education, Board of Regents for Higher Education, and UConn Board of Trustees to develop a plan to give high school students financial literacy instruction, on an optional basis. Former Gov. Dannel Malloy signed this into law in 2015.
The Education Committee in 2021 passed a bill requiring a full credit of personal financial management, along with computer science, to graduate. But this bill never made it to the House or Senate floor.
The year before, when the pandemic threw a wrench into legislative activities, another bill that would have required a credit of personal financial management didn’t make it out of committee.
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