Brad Raffensperger, Georgia’s Secretary of State, is on tour this fall, helping to boost the state’s newly-required Personal Financial Literacy (PFL) classes for high school students. Georgia is one of 23 “gold standard” states for financial literacy education, which means that high school students are (or will soon be) required to pass a one-semester PFL course before graduation. Over the past few years, many states have become “gold standard” financial educators, boosted by increased public support for financial literacy education. Georgia joined the club in 2022, with seniors in the class of 2025 being the first to have to complete a one-semester PFL course to graduate.
Georgia deserves praise for going beyond expectations: although high school students did not have to complete the PFL course before the class of 2025, the state gave every graduating senior in the class of 2023 a personal finance handbook.
Students, Parents, and Taxpayers Need to See PFL Gains
Unfortunately, it’s not enough to just require a PFL course for graduation if we want to see Generation Z become financially literate. We need to support those classes, especially until they achieve a critical mass of material and experience. Students and parents need to know that the states stand behind this new subject, and it will not be a “blow-off class” with minimal academic expectations. During the first few years of implementation, lack of support will quickly result in PFL classes becoming relegated to the “back burner” in terms of student effort. Students will mentally disengage if high-quality curriculum and material are absent on day one in August or September.
Iowa has removed its standalone financial literacy education requirement, taking a step back from being a “gold standard” state. It will now allow financial literacy standards to be implemented through other courses. Proponents of Iowa’s Senate File 391 argue that it provides schools and school districts with flexibility, but critics say it reduces the rigor of education and will make high school graduates underprepared for the next steps in life. Certainly, financial literacy is not the field where high school graduates need less preparation! But, to prevent other states from following Iowa’s lead and putting a one-semester PFL class on the chopping block in the name of curriculum and master schedule flexibility, stakeholders need to see academic gains and strong implementation of the next class.
Critics of New Graduation Requirements Will Scrutinize
Sadly, adding an invaluable class like Personal Financial Literacy to graduation requirements is not without detractors. Many school districts face tough staffing conditions, and many schools have little flexibility in their master schedules. As a new class, PFL will be under pressure from those who ascribe to the common “last in, first out” philosophy for cuts to programs. Instead of evaluating the class on its merits, many may simply say, “Well, it hasn’t been here for long, so it will be easy to cut it.” This philosophy will harm students by cutting valuable classes while leaving older, but perhaps less academically beneficial, courses untouched.
In Georgia, putting the Secretary of State behind an initiative to boost the new PFL class requirement shows that it is not a class to cut even when things are tight.