Senate passes bill on high school financial literacy education ― but with some confusion
By a 35-1 vote, the state Senate on Tuesday enthusiastically passed a years-in-the-making bill requiring financial literacy instruction in high school despite some confusion about what the legislation actually does.
The bill mandates that public school instruction shall include “personal financial management and financial literacy.” And starting with the class of 2027 ― incoming freshmen this August― “no local or regional board of education shall permit any student to graduate from high school or grant a diploma to any student who has not satisfactorily completed a minimum of twenty-five credits,” including at least “one-half credit in personal financial management and financial literacy.”
An Office of Legislative Research analysis explained that an amendment approved on the Senate floor allows the half-credit to count toward the nine-credit humanities graduation requirement or as an elective credit, meaning the bill doesn’t make students take more credits to graduate.
The amendment also lets boards of education make a “one-credit mastery-based diploma assessment” ― such as a capstone ― optional rather than mandatory.
But Education Committee Co-Chair Sen. Douglas McCrory, D-Hartford, said in the session Tuesday about financial literacy that, “This course will be offered in our high schools for all our students. It’s not a mandate that they have to take it, but if they do take it, it fills the requirement of an elective or a humanities course.”
This was in response to a question from Sen. Rob Sampson, R-Wolcott, who then tried a different tack and asked, “Is it possible for a student to graduate from a local or regional board of education and graduate from high school without taking this one-half credit in personal financial management and financial literacy?” McCrory responded, “Yes.”
Michelle Rappaport, press aide for McCrory, said in an email Thursday that McCrory misspoke but did correct himself later while on the floor, and the bill does make financial literacy “a required mandate to take in order to graduate.”
McCrory posted a graphic to his official Facebook page Tuesday evening that described Senate Bill 1165 as “Requiring All High Schoolers to Take a Financial Literacy Course.”
He wrote, “Today I lead the Senate passage of a bill that will add personal financial management and financial literacy to the high school graduation requirements. I am thrilled all students in Connecticut will learn financial literacy regardless of which school district they live in. This levels the playing field for all students no matter their background.”
Asked for clarification Thursday, Sen. Martha Marx, D-New London, described it as a mandate, and Sen. Heather Somers, R-Groton, said in a text “it’s not a separate credit requirement and can be counted as an elective, but it will have to be taken I believe.” Sen. Norm Needleman, D-Essex, said he believes it’s a required course but was not 100% sure.
This was not the interpretation of Sen. John Kissel, R-Enfield, during the session Tuesday. While he ultimately voted in favor of the bill, Kissel said he was “sad” and “disappointed,” having hoped that the answer to Sampson’s question would be no.
“I don’t think this should be an option, and the ones that are going to opt out are probably the folks, the young people, that would need it the most,” Kissel said. He added, “I think that we need to force this down our kids’ throats sooner rather than later.”
Sen. Tony Hwang, R-Fairfield, also voted for the bill but first said, “I know there was some flexibility in this amendment to make it an elective. I would prefer that it be a required course.”
Sampson, the lone vote against the bill, then said the original bill was clear financial literacy was required for graduation, but McCrory indicated it was no longer required in the amendment.
Sampson, though, said he was hearing from his staff and others it’s still a mandate.
He also took issue with the bill leaving the course content up to the State Board of Education and not local school officials. Nobody else spoke before legislators voted.
Before all this, McCrory said he’s been working on this legislation for the past five years. He said certified teachers currently working in the school system can teach this course, but that legislators are also working on a bill that would allow people from the business world to teach the course.
Sen. Eric Berthel, R-Watertown, recalled that a year or two ago, his teenage son received a check from his aunt and asked what it was. He wants Connecticut to join the 17 other states requiring financial literacy education for graduation.
Sen. Cici Maher, D-Wilton, commented that because first-generation students “are often the teachers of their parents,” this bill will help parents as well.
Some local financial professionals who submitted written testimony in March supporting the bill on Thursday shared their reactions to the bill’s passage.
Charter Oak Federal Credit Union President Brian Orenstein said in an email statement he was excited for the bill’s passage. He added, “Having an understanding of basic financial principles is crucial for a sound financial future, and high school is the best place to start.”
Miria Gray, community education officer at Chelsea Groton Bank, said having students opt in is great but making financial literacy education mandatory is better.
“I think it’s fabulous that so many of the legislators are on board and understand how important it is for students to be able to have personal finance, manage their money after graduation, and to give them the tools they need to be successful in whatever career they choose,” she said.
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