Florida high school students can now learn the financial skills they need to thrive in the real world. On March 22, Governor Ron DeSantis signed into law SB 1054, ensuring that all high school students in Florida will graduate after completing a full semester of personal finance education.
The bill was unanimously approved by the Florida House and Senate this year. High school students entering the 2023-24 school year will be the first cohort to benefit from this bill, but districts are expected to immediately begin increasing access to financial education.
I’ve spent the past seven months advocating for SB 1054. I’ve met with the bill’s sponsors, State Representative Demi Busatta Cabrera and Senator Travis Hutson, along with dozens of other passionate lawmakers at Tallahassee. I’ve had countless Zoom calls with a broad coalition of stakeholders, including educators, district superintendents, nonprofits such as the FPP Coalition, Florida Council on Economic Education and more.
These conversations made it clear that the day for the signing of the bill would come. There was broad consensus that personal finance education was an essential part of preparing the next generation for life after high school. This broad agreement materialized when the bills were passed unanimously by the Florida House and Senate.
Lawmakers are listening to the public on this issue. Polling data revealed that 85% are in favor of guaranteeing a personal finance course for high school students.
Florida high schoolers won’t have to learn about money like I did, at the “school of hard knocks.” As a first generation college student, I incurred tens of thousands of dollars in credit card debt without any understanding of the terms and conditions or the implications of my ill-informed financial choices. At 18, I had no idea how compound interest worked – in fact, I had never heard anyone in my family or community use the term.
High school is such an important place for teaching this course.
After graduating, students join the labor market or go to university. Those heading to college make one of the most important financial decisions of their lives, aside from buying a home. Borrowing student loans is not a simple process.
At 18, students must analyze financial aid award letters, compare loan interest rates, and create a long-term plan to pay for their education. If they choose to live on a college campus, they will have to manage bank accounts and a budget. Students are also starting to look for career opportunities based on their specialization. These are all skills that should be taught in a personal finance course.
Students entering the workforce directly need to apply these financial skills and knowledge even earlier. They will need to compare salaries and benefits, the value of continuing education/training, manage bank accounts and budget each paycheck, secure transportation, and build wealth by signing up for a 401K, opening an IRA, or of them.
Research conclusively shows that students who receive high-quality personal finance education in school manage their finances better as adults, resulting in less debt, higher credit scores, income higher staff and better quality of life in general.
It is no wonder that we are witnessing a wave of legislation across the country focused on improving access to financial education. 26 states introduced bills as of early 2022. The number of states guaranteeing high school students a semester course in personal finance has doubled in the past two years, from five to 10, Ohio, Nebraska and Rhode Island having passed legislation in 2021.
This week, Florida became the 11th.
I am a millennial and today we see that many of my generation have made ill-informed decisions regarding money. As a result, we must forgo buying homes, opening businesses, having children, or investing in order to prioritize deleveraging.
It’s time we made a change so that future generations can participate more actively and positively in national and state economic opportunities.
Yanely Espinal is Director of Educational Outreach for Next Gen Personal Finance, an endowment-funded nonprofit that partners with nearly 60,000 teachers (more than 1,500 in Florida) offering a free personal finance program and free teacher professional development training.