Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine has signed a bill mandating all high-schoolers in the state take a half-credit, standalone personal finance course before they graduate.
With the signing of the measure on Oct. 28 by its Republican governor, Ohio is now the 10th state in the U.S. that requires personal finance education at the high school level. So far, it's also the largest, with the legislation spanning more than 600 school districts in the Buckeye State.
"I was a banker for 41 years and I saw the results of us not teaching our children financial literacy," said Ohio state Sen. Steve Wilson, chair of the Ohio Senate's Financial Institutions and Technology Committee and a primary sponsor of the bill. "I wanted to do something about it."
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Ohio's personal finance mandate
In the last two years, five states — Ohio, Mississippi, North Carolina, Nebraska and Rhode Island — passed legislation requiring that students take a full semester standalone personal finance education course in high school, doubling the total number of states with such a mandate.
Such a course is considered the gold standard by Next Gen Personal Finance, a national financial literacy organization. Ohio's bill will go into effect in the 2024-25 school year and cover personal finance topics from basic budgeting to opening a bank account, managing student loan debt and more.
"Without that kind of education, we're thrusting kids into a world to learn to manage money through the school of hard knocks," said Brian Page, senior director of partnerships and advocacy at Next Gen Personal Finance who was previously a teacher at Reading High School in Reading, Ohio.
He added that high schoolers need personal finance education now, as many are already making decisions around money that will impact their futures.
The Ohio bill also allows for teachers not currently licensed to teach the class to receive a special certification to teach a personal finance course. That will be paid for by the school district and reimbursed through a financial literacy fund, created through the legislation with money from local businesses such as banks and credit unions.
Including the financial literacy fund as a part of the bill ensures that adding these courses won't burden educator's budgets, according to Wilson.
What students say about the mandate
Students, who played a major role in convincing legislators to take up the bill, are glad to see that personal finance education will be available to every child in Ohio going forward.
"The best part of my course was the empowerment factor," said Kristen Cain, now a college sophomore at Ohio State University, who took a personal finance class in high school with Page. She added that learning that she is capable of investing, saving and otherwise managing her money well at a young age was just as important as the hard skills covered in the course.
Kylie Schmidt, a college sophomore at the University of Cincinnati who also took classes with Page in high school, learned to save and invest for the future.
"There's a lot of things this bill gives to kids, and I think one big thing is security," she said.
Advice for other states
The push for more state personal finance education mandates continues across the country. This year alone, 26 states and Washington, D.C., introduced legislation around personal finance education in high schools, according to data from Next Gen Personal Finance.
For advocates in other states that are working on similar legislation, the group in Ohio has some advice.
The first is to find a legislator to champion the bill, as Sen. Wilson did in Ohio.
"It was because of his leadership that it was a pleasure to go through the process," said Page of the Republican legislator.
Next, they should be ready to overcome any opposition that's sure to come as they try to move the bill forward. This will take reworking parts of the legislation and thinking outside of the box.
"They had to go back to the drawing board and be ready to creative problem solve time and time again," said Yanely Espinal, director of educational outreach at Next Gen Personal Finance.
Lastly, people need to be ready to stay the course. Ohio's bill took about five years to pass.
"I was not going to give up," said Sen. Wilson. "It's going to make such an incredible difference in the state of Ohio."
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