Politics & Government

Required personal finance class for NC students could mean fewer US history lessons

Kraftchick explains need for financial literacy for students

Jonathan Kraftchick of the N.C. Association of Certified Public Accountants discusses the need to explain financial literacy skills to middle and high school students.
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Jonathan Kraftchick of the N.C. Association of Certified Public Accountants discusses the need to explain financial literacy skills to middle and high school students.

North Carolina high school students could be required to learn more about financial literacy, but it could come at the cost of learning less about U.S. history.

Legislation going through both the state House and Senate would create an economics and personal finance class that students would need to pass to graduate from high school. But in order to squeeze in that new graduation requirement, the state may need to eliminate one of two currently required U.S. history courses.

State lawmakers who are promoting the new legislation say the last thing they want is to reduce the amount of U.S. history that’s taught. But how the issue will be resolved if the legislation passes is unclear.

“At the end of the day, we want our kids to learn U.S. history and to be financially literate,” Rep. Craig Horn, a Union County Republican, said in an interview. “So help me figure out how to do that.”

Some social studies teachers say the new legislation is another example of how lawmakers don’t realize the potential impact of the decisions they make.

“I think a lot of state decision-makers don’t know what we’re teaching already,” said Angie Scioli, a social studies teacher at Leesville Road High School in Raleigh and founder of the teachers’ group Red4EdNC. “They haven’t consulted the teachers about the particular subject.”

The legislation comes at a time when there’s concern about the rising amount of student debt being accumulated. The new course would include lessons on paying for college, home mortgages, credit scores, car loans, managing credit cards and “the true cost of credit,” the News & Observer previously reported.

“Kids are graduating and going into the real world of money and finance and credit and debt and credit cards,” Sen. Jerry Tillman, a Republican from Archdale, said at last week’s Senate Education Committee meeting. “And in a year or two if they go to college ... they come out many of them with debt loads that are unbearable and that may follow them the rest of their lives.

“We want to make sure these kids know how money works, how banking works, how investing, how credit works, how money can be your friend or your enemy. They don’t know this.”

Rep. Kevin Corbin, a Macon County Republican, said at last week’s House Education Committee meeting that students are graduating from high school without learning about personal finance.

“You have kids leaving high school that don’t think anything about personal financial responsibility,” said Corbin, a former school board member.

The new standalone personal finance class would be a requirement beginning with high school freshmen in the 2020-21 school year.

But Scioli said she and other social studies teachers have taught about personal finance for years as part of the state-mandated civics and economics course.

“It’s bizarre to me that they’re shaking up the curriculum based on anecdotal evidence,” she said.

The legislation has the backing of Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Forest and a bipartisan group of lawmakers. But some question how it would be implemented.

Currently, North Carolina public high school students are required to 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 a revamped civics course as two of the required classes. The legislation tells the State Board of Education to revise the K-12 social studies standards while saying that only four courses can be required for high school students.

Kara McCraw, staff attorney for the N.C. legislative analysis division, told legislators that if the law passes the state board anticipates making World History and American History as the other two required courses.

“This legislation, if passed, along with any other existing or newly passed legislation, will inform our standards revision process in alignment with State Board of Education policy,” said Drew Elliot, a spokesman for the state Department of Public Instruction. “All relevant legislation, research and public input will inform the standards revisions.

“In general, we certainly continue to plan to address founding principles, civics, and American and world history in any revised standards, in addition to new courses required by legislation.”

But the reality, according to Scioli and John deVille, a social studies teacher at Franklin High School in Macon County, is that things will have to return to the days of having only one U.S. history course. The state board voted in 2010 to require two U.S. history courses after complaints were made that history wasn’t getting enough focus.

“I don’t want to see American History 1 and American History 2 collapsed into a single class because all of the richness we have developed in those courses with primary source analysis and the critical thinking skills which are enhanced would be lost,” said deVille, a member of Red4EdNC’s board.

Scioli said they’ll only be able to do a “mile-wide and inch-deep” teaching of U.S. history to cover it all in one course.

Rather than “jamming it into the existing social studies curriculum,” deVille said it would make more sense to require students to learn about personal finance as part of a consumer math class. He said they could take that class instead of Math 3.

Scioli said requiring the new personal finance course will force social studies teachers to spend a lot of time changing how they teach the other required social studies courses for very little gain.

Tillman, the senator, said in an interview he thinks they can both teach personal finance and not reduce the amount of US.history that’s taught.

‘We’re not going to short shrift U.S. history,” Tillman said. “My goodness. I’m not worried about it at all.”

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T. Keung Hui has covered K-12 education for the News & Observer since 1999, helping parents, students, school employees and the community understand the vital role education plays in North Carolina. His primary focus is Wake County, but he also covers statewide education issues.

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