PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Rhode Island high schoolers could soon have a new class on their schedules.
General Treasurer Seth Magaziner is pushing for a bill to mandate the teaching of financial literacy in the state’s public high schools, in an effort to ensure students graduate with financial knowledge to succeed as adults.
“We’re talking about very basic but important life skills,” Magaziner said in a news conference on Thursday. “How to make a budget, how to maintain your credit score, how to be an informed consumer, how to avoid traps.”
His office released a report in December that said 36 other states mandate financial literacy courses, but Rhode Island does not.
Magaziner said many schools already offer the course as an elective, but his bill would make it a mandatory class for all students.
Kip Hallagan, a Bucknell College student, said he took a financial literacy course before he graduated from East Greenwich High School. He said his classmates who didn’t take the course found themselves unprepared for life after school.
“It was eye-opening to see students who could read Moby Dick in a weekend and solve the most complex quadratic equations stumble over predatory loans and other seemingly attractive bait-and-switch offers,” Hallagan said.
The bill, introduced earlier this week by Sen. Sandra Cano, D-Pawtucket and in the House by Representative Joseph McNamara, D-Warwick, would require public high schools to offer the course by the 2019-2020 and make it a requirement by the 2021-2022 school year.
A spokesperson for the National Education Association of Rhode Island tells Eyewitness News the teachers union supports having financial literacy courses for students, but have questions about how it will be implemented.
“We are certainly supportive of financial literacy goals for our students,” NEARI spokesperson Stephanie Mandeville said. “As always, we need to inquire how new mandates on teachers fit into existing curricula and also ensure they are not unfunded mandates.”
Magaziner said he expects the literacy courses to be low-cost to implement, because the Rhode Island Department of Education will provide free online resources for teachers to use for personal finance lessons.
Tim Duffy, the executive director of the Rhode Island Association of School Committees, said he was concerned about adding any more mandatory courses to schools where students are already struggling to complete the existing graduation requirements.
“We should take a look at it and address it, but how do you fit it into the current school year?” Duffy said. “I don’t know that we need to make it mandatory.”
Tom DiPaola, the executive director of the Rhode Island School Superintendents Association, said the group has not yet taken a stance on the financial literacy bill.