Updated on June 19, 2019
North Carolina lawmakers say they want to teach students about being financially responsible. But critics say the change will disrupt the social studies curriculum and shifts the blame away from financial institutions.
The state Senate voted 42-3 Monday to pass a bill that would require high school students to complete a personal finance class to graduate. The new course would cover paying for college, home mortgages, credit scores, car loans, managing credit cards and “the true cost of credit,” the News & Observer previously reported.
Backers rejected an amendment Monday from Sen. Jay Chaudhuri, a Raleigh Democrat, that would not have required that personal finance be taught as a standalone class.
“It’s certainly worth a full unit to teach financial literacy to these kids who are going to be incurring a lot of debt in the next few years,” said Sen. Jerry Tillman, an Archdale Republican. “College loan debt now is probably about $40,000 per graduate.”
The bill was passed over the objections of some social studies teachers who argue that personal finance is already part of a required civics class. They also say the bill paints a one-sided view of why people have financial issues.
“It scapegoats teachers as if they’re the major problem with people’s personal finance when in fact there are systemic problems including lack of living wages and lack of appropriate benefits,” Angie Scioli, a social studies teacher at Leesville Road High School in Raleigh, said in an interview.
House Bill 924 returns to the House for a vote that has been scheduled for June 24. The Senate tacked on the financial literacy course to unrelated legislation on teacher contracts after standalone bills creating the class didn’t make it out of committee.
There’s a nationwide push to promote financial literacy in schools. Nineteen states have a personal finance course as a graduation requirement, up from 13 in 2011, according to the Council for Economic Education.
The new class would be required for North Carolina students entering ninth grade beginning in the 2021-22 school year.
But Scioli, founder of the teachers groups Red4EdNC, argues that the bill does not educate people about how financial institutions prey on vulnerable populations.
Rep. Terry Garrison, a Vance County Democrat, unsuccessfully tried to get wording included in the House budget that said the class would include instruction on “the history of the wealth gap, with emphasis on racial disparities and on the role of federal, state and local policies in creating or contributing to the wealth gap.”
Scioli and other social studies teachers are also worried about the major changes it will have on the social studies curriculum, including potentially squeezing out a U.S. history class to fit in the new personal finance course.
Currently, North Carolina high school students must complete four social studies courses to graduate: Civics and Economics, World History, American History 1 and American History 2.
The legislation would make the new finance course and the civics course two of the required classes. It also would prevent the State Board of Education from requiring more than four social studies courses to graduate.
The teachers floated a compromise to Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, a major backer of the new course. Instead of a standalone finance class, they proposed increasing the focus on personal finance in the civics class and moving some of the history instruction in civics to U.S. history 1.
In a tweet Tuesday, Forest argued that the new personal finance class needs to be a standalone course. He also said that North Carolina is one of only two states that have multiple American history courses.
Chaudhuri cited conversations he had with 20 social studies teachers for his amendment not requiring personal finance to be a separate class. He said the state board and the state Department of Public Instruction should decide how and when it’s taught.
“I do believe that everyone agrees we should make room for economic and personal financial literacy,” Chaudhuri said. “But the challenge before us is how proscriptive should the General Assembly be.”
Tillman said teachers shouldn’t be worried. He said that he’ll work with DPI to address their concerns. Both he and Chaudhuri were among the primary sponsors of the original personal finance bill.
“We have 110,000 teachers in the state, and they know me and they know this bill,” Tillman said.