Politics & Government

NC lawmakers added a new high school graduation requirement. Why are some unhappy?

Lt. Gov. Dan Forest talks about the creation of a new standalone personal finance class

N.C. Lt. Gov. Dan Forest talks on Thursday, June 27, 2019, about his support of the creation of a new standalone personal finance class as a required social studies course for North Carolina high school students.
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N.C. Lt. Gov. Dan Forest talks on Thursday, June 27, 2019, about his support of the creation of a new standalone personal finance class as a required social studies course for North Carolina high school students.

Updated on July 8

North Carolina has become the 20th state in the nation to require students to complete a financial literacy course to graduate from high school, even though some teachers are fighting the proposal.

The state House voted 73-38 on June 27 to pass a bill that would require high school students to take a course covering paying for college, home mortgages, credit scores, car loans, managing credit cards and “the true cost of credit.”

But critics, including a number of teachers, complained that fitting in the new standalone personal finance class will result in the elimination of one of the two required U.S. history classes.

House Bill 924 was already overwhelmingly approved by the Senate. Gov. Roy Cooper announced on July 8 that he had signed the bill into law.

“At the end of the day we all agree that our kids and ourselves actually need to know a whole lot more about financial literacy,” said Rep. Craig Horn, a Union County Republican.

Supporters have argued that the class is essential in an age where students are experiencing increasing amounts of debt.

“We know that we have some basic challenges with people coming out of school and understanding how to handle their finances,” Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Forest said at a news conference Thursday before the House vote. “It’s probably true for just about any of us.

“This content and curriculum that we’re going to be teaching is I think transformative to the education of our young people and I think that will be transformative to our state and to our nation as well.”

The legislation comes amid 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 2020-21 school year. The proposed state budget includes money to pay $500 to teachers who take a training course from the N.C. Council on Economic Education.

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 say the new class will require major changes in the state’s social studies curriculum.

“I am concerned about the fact that there’s been a lot of concern expressed by those teachers across the state who are teaching these courses and feel that this isn’t the right approach,” said Rep. Cynthia Ball, a Raleigh Democrat.

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 had floated a compromise to Forest that would not have required creating a standalone personal finance class. They proposed increasing the focus on personal finance in the civics class and moving some of the history instruction from civics to U.S. History 1.

But in a tweet last week, 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.

Some teachers had also suggested that the new class isn’t needed because students can take an existing elective class in personal finance that’s part of the career and technical education curriculum. But Rep. Derwin Montgomery, a Forsyth County Democrat, said that the problem with only making it an elective is that not every household will see why it’s important to take the course.

“This would ensure that every student that graduates high school in North Carolina has taken it regardless of the financial and economic standing of the households that they reside in,” Montgomery said.

Initially, the House and Senate had included the new personal finance class in standalone legislation. But with the bills still stuck in committee, the Senate tacked on the financial literacy course to unrelated legislation on teacher contracts.

Citing the concerns of teachers, Rep. Graig Meyer, a Chapel Hill Democrat, said an “inconvenient consequence out of a very well-intentioned bill” is that it could also lead to fewer students taking AP U.S. History.

Horn tried to ease the concerns of educators, saying Thursday he’s working with the state board and state Department of Public Instruction so that the new financial literacy class won’t disrupt the curriculum.

“I just want to assure everyone I have reached out to and worked with teachers across the state on this issue,” he said.

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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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