For the last six years, Florida and the nation have faced the alarming reality that its students continue to drown in debt. Student loan debt has tripled since 2009 to more than $1.5 trillion, fast-approaching the 2008-09 levels of default that led to a taxpayer-funded bailout.
In many states, students are now graduating with nearly $40,000 in student loan debt.
In Florida, average student loan debt is nearly $25,000.00 per student. Within five years of beginning repayment, nearly 30 percent of borrowers default on their student loans. By 2023, more than 40 percent will default on their student loans. Young people aged 18-24 on average owe 1/3 of their entire income toward debt repayment.
But these are only symptoms of a larger problem: financial illiteracy.
As we saw in 2009 and now with historic student loan defaults, financial illiteracy is no longer confined to the individual who makes a bad financial decision. It is now impacting many more people — sometimes all taxpayers — and its consequences last a lifetime.
So, what’s the answer?
Research shows, a separate personal finance course in high school.
Just as we broke the cycle of reading illiteracy for students before they graduate, sound research concludes we must do no less when it comes to financial illiteracy. That is why more than 20 states now require a separate financial literacy course to be offered.
Florida, however, is not one of them.
That changed when dedicated groups like the Florida Council on Economic Education, along with a broad range of stakeholders, worked with the late-Sen. Dorothy Hukill to move Florida toward a required personal finance course in 2013 in three phases: First, establish the cost of the course; second, create the content for the course; then, armed with the data, adopt the course itself.
Phases one and two were completed in 2015. For the next three years, our Legislature worked to complete the critical, final phase of adopting the course but came up short.
We’re glad our Legislators didn’t give up. Just last week, they finally approved legislation that will require all School Districts to offer a personal finance course in high school.
Although it does not require students to take the course, this historic bill does require all districts to offer the course and marks the first time Florida has ever required a personal finance course to be offered as an elective.
Thanks to Sen. Travis Hutson, Rep. Elizabeth Fetterhoff, and Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen, who courageously continued Sen. Hukill’s noble legacy, we are closer than we’ve ever been to our goal.
We hope the Legislature and Governor will approve this needed legislation.
William Thomas is the board chair of the Florida Council on Economic Education.
May 1, 2019 at 1:36 pm
This bill is a huge step BACK for financial education in the state of FL. I’m not sure why you are taking a victory lap over this, it is not a victory. Students were already required to receive financial education in their Economics course. All students. That requirement is being removed by this bill, and replaced simply by an elective course that must be offered. Offered, not taken. Many less Florida students will now be receiving financial literacy instruction as a result of this bill. I can’t fathom Sen. Hukill would be proud of this result. This is a HUGE win for Economics education, a huge loss for financial literacy education.
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