April 22, 2024

Pa. education bill requires basic financial literacy for high school students

Balancing a checkbook. The basics of taking out a business loan. The impact of a home mortgage.

For the average high school student, these don’t sound like exciting concepts. And in adulthood, they don’t get much more exciting. But they are essential. And state legislators want all high school students to be able to take a class that will help them understand the basics of finances.

Part of Senate Bill 843, the omnibus education bill approved last week in Pennsylvania, includes a provision that high schools offer a stand-alone personal finance course.

“I think it’s a fantastic idea,” said Gennaro Piraino, superintendent in the Franklin Regional School District. “We offer a personal finance course, and we’re now looking at different places where we can put it into our curriculum. We have some business courses and we’re looking at offering components of this in our family and consumer science courses at the high school.”

Pennsylvania becomes the 25th state to guarantee access to basic financial education literacy, according to nonprofit Next Gen Personal Finance.

State Sen. Chris Gebhard, R-Lebanon County, sponsored the original bill.

“An alarming number of our high school students are currently entering adulthood and the workforce without an appropriate knowledge of basic financial concepts,” Gebhard said. “I want them to have the best foundation possible as they start their own lives — far too often, the financial decisions our younger generations are making have led to unintended consequences that have put them at an economic disadvantage later in life.”

Colten Oakes of Murrysville graduated from Franklin Regional in 2019. He did not take the personal finance class and said most of his guidance about managing money initially came from his parents.

“I did take some classes like that during my time at Point Park University,” he said. “It did feel very beneficial and I did come out with a better understanding of debt and how to tackle it.”

Pennsylvania school districts will be provided with resources and training to effectively implement the course, including from the Department of Education, who will collaborate with experts and educators to share high-
quality course materials and model curriculum.

The course requirement will go into effect with the 2026-27 school year. It would include topics such as budgeting, saving, credit management, investing, loans, interest rates and other entry-level financial concepts.

Monessen High School teacher Joanne McClellan is busy familiarizing her first class of juniors with those concepts. The district added a mandatory financial literacy course to its 11th grade curriculum this year.

“Every school should offer it,” McClellan said. “When I left high school, I had no idea what I was getting myself into.”

She said conversations with students have generated a lot of questions and interest, “even with students who wouldn’t normally engage otherwise.”

“A lot of kids didn’t realize that, if you’re getting paid $15 an hour, you’re not really getting that much after the deductions,” she said. “We talked about labor laws. Some of my students found out they’d been asked to work at times when they shouldn’t have been.”

After the holiday break, McClellan’s class will discuss income taxes and the impact of large purchases, such as cars and homes, to round out the semester-long course, before a fresh group of students takes their seats.

“I really think it’s a good thing,” Piraino said. “It won’t solve all the financial literacy problems we have, but at least students will have a basic understanding of things like filling out a check, what something like a car really costs, or if I get a 30-year mortgage, what is the real long-term impact of that?”

Patrick Varine is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Patrick by email at pvarine@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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