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Students could be required to take personal finance course

Paying bills, managing a checking account, saving for retirement: These important life skills are rarely top of mind for high school kids.

Sponsored by Rep. Kaohly Her (DFL-St. Paul), HF847 as amended, would require high school students to pass a half credit of personal finance education in order to graduate.

“It is a tool that everyone … regardless of gender, race, culture, religion, class, or creed will need in their lifetime,” Her explained. “It is also a social justice tool to address one of America’s most pervasive problems, poverty.”

The bill was held over Tuesday by the House Education Policy Committee for possible omnibus bill inclusion. The companion, SF19, awaits action by the Senate E-12 Finance and Policy Committee, where Sen. Steve Cwodzinski (DFL-Eden Prairie) is the sponsor.

Advocates including Michael Solomon, treasurer for the city of Saint Paul, said he’s seen several individual and community benefits as the result of financial education programs including:

  • improved access to banking services in communities with high exposure to payday lenders;
  • better credit scores;
  • reduction in housing disparities;
  • increased savings for college and retirement; and
  • utilization of tax credits and rebates.

“We think it’s important to have this education in high school as well,” he said. “We’re seeing many college students that do not graduate with any basic financial skills.”  

To free up more space in students’ schedules for the course, the proposal would reduce the minimum number of required elective credits from seven to 6 1/2.

Reducing the elective credit minimum is a sticking point for school boards and administrators. Roger Aronson, representing the Minnesota Association of Secondary School Principals, noted that personal finance elements are currently embedded in courses such as economics and social studies. He suggested leaving the issue to be decided at the district level, as opposed to mandating it.   

“For a lot of our high school students, their schedules are completely booked,” he said. “By taking this mandated course, there’s some electives then that some students will not be taking and typically those are at the high end.”

Rep. Sondra Erickson (R-Princeton) reiterated this concern and said educators would likely need further training and professional development to effectively deliver the personal finance class. She asked whether the course would be aligned with state standards and cautioned against having it as a standalone class.

The required half-credit would equate to a semester-long course, which would build on the existing materials covered within economics classes. Her said that the course was especially timely given widespread issues like mounting school loan debt, skyrocketing health care costs, predatory financial products and the widening income gap.

“The only way to address this is to equip students today with the resources and tools for managing personal finance,” she said.


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