July 21, 2024

Editorial: Personal finance class long overdue for Pennsylvania students

William Penn opened schools when Pennsylvania was just a colony. Public schools in the state were put in place constitutionally in 1789. The Free Public Schools Act passed 45 years later, formalizing a public education system in the Keystone State.

Education represents about 39% of the state’s budget, according to PennWATCH figures. That giant slice of the spending pie is a perennial sticking point between lawmakers and governors as leaders try to find a way to balance a lot of pressing tasks with a finite amount of money.

Stretching the bankroll to cover the necessities isn’t an easy task — not for the government, not for schools and definitely not for individuals.

That’s why it is surprising that financial literacy has never been a priority. Pennsylvania has never demanded that students leave school as freshly minted adults with an understanding of how to function in a financial world as grown-ups.

That changes with Senate Bill 843, an education package approved at the last minute by lawmakers last week. Beginning in the 2026-27 school year, a dedicated personal finance class will be made available, teaching kids about everything from debt to investments to the mechanics of everyday money.

It’s something some school districts, like Monessen, already have put in place. Colleges also have prioritized financial literacy in recent years as a response to the escalating amount of debt that comes with a degree. But not every student goes to college. Even if that choice is made, after you’ve already signed a student loan, it’s too late to decide if you can afford the college in question.

So why has the state taken so long to realize this need? Pennsylvania students have to show proficiency in algebra, biology and literature to graduate, but this more day-to-day math seems at least as important and with more broad applications.

Quadratic equations can be important, regardless of your career goals, for their role in teaching you how to think and solve problems. But knowing how to manage a bank account, budget bills and understand interest is a critical life skill for everyone.

Kudos to legislators for finally making a good financial baseline education a priority for Pennsylvania students.

Now if only government leaders could figure out a way to make the education budget a little more balanced — and how to get things done on time. Maybe they could use a class, too.

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