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Financial Literacy Bill Dies, Sponsor Optimistic For Pilot Program

A bill mandating stand-alone financial literacy instruction has died.
Nick Evans
A bill mandating stand-alone financial literacy instruction has died.
A bill mandating stand-alone financial literacy instruction has died.
Credit Nick Evans
A bill mandating stand-alone financial literacy instruction has died.

Florida high school students already get instruction on financial literacy before graduating, but a popular House bill would have made it a stand-alone, required class.  The measure won’t be moving forward despite a long and bipartisan list of co-sponsors.

Here at the halfway point of the legislative session, it’s a good moment to take stock.  Committees are winding down, some bills have been signed into law and some are already dead.  One of the dead is Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen’s (R-Fort Meyers) financial literacy bill. 

Fitzenhagen was aiming to pull the module out of the current coursework in Economics to create a separate class.  She cobbled together an impressive bipartisan coalition of supporters—43 co-sponsors in all.  That’s more than a third of the House. 

And support for Fitzenhagen’s bill extends beyond the halls of power.

At Lawton Chiles High on the North end of Tallahassee, Peter Prato is guiding his seniors through the personal finance section of their Economics class.  He says lessons like writing a budget, understanding interest and credit and the ever-popular stock market game, put important tools in the hands of his students.  He thinks as a separate course, there would be more time to build out lessons with connections to the real world.

Prato rattles off a list of questions the class could cover, “What car would you want to buy?   Where are you going to live?  Let’s look at how much insurance is going to cost, what kind of rates could you get for that?”   

“Or for the mortgage portion, teach them how to do a mortgage, I could bring bankers in and let them talk about it,” Prato continues.  “It would just open up a lot more opportunities for me than covering the large number of standards that I already have to cover.”

So with support in the classroom and support in the Legislature, how did this bill die?  Well, it actually never quite got off the ground.  And this isn’t the first time. 

Fitzenhagen pushed for expanded financial literacy instruction last year as well.  She got 43 co-sponsors then, too.  Last year and this year, House leadership slated three stops for the bill, but both times it wasn’t taken up at its first stop in the K-12 subcommittee.   Fitzenhagen has no explanation for why not.

“I can’t answer that question,” she says, “but that’s really unimportant to me, in the big scheme of things, because what is important to me is that the changes that we need to have made to help Florida’s high school students, I’ve been able to be a part of making that happen.”

That’s because although Fitzenhagen’s bills haven’t moved forward, the Department of Education has.  Last June it approved a set of six standards relating to financial literacy that teachers like Mr. Prato are teaching right now.  

But that doesn’t mean Fitzenhagen is done with financial literacy.

“I’m excited because we have some language that we’re putting into the budget that hopefully will get approved that will allow two school districts, Broward and Lee to have a pilot program to do an early roll-out of this course material so that we can work to make sure that we’re presenting it in the most effective, meaningful way,” Fitzenhagen says.

That pilot program will set up stand-alone required financial literacy courses in both counties.  But with the House and Senate still at odds over major policy considerations like Amendment 1, health care, and other education appropriations, Fitzenhagen’s pilot program will be a relatively small bargaining chip.  It’s too soon to say whether that means it’ll be neglected or tossed into a bucket of other provisions on the way to a compromise.

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Nick Evans came to Tallahassee to pursue a masters in communications at Florida State University. He graduated in 2014, but not before picking up an internship at WFSU. While he worked on his degree Nick moved from intern, to part-timer, to full-time reporter. Before moving to Tallahassee, Nick lived in and around the San Francisco Bay Area for 15 years. He listens to far too many podcasts and is a die-hard 49ers football fan. When Nick’s not at work he likes to cook, play music and read.
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