The Florida Senate took little time in the 2018 session to unanimously approve (again) Sen. Dorothy Hukill's years-long effort to require high school students take a financial literacy course for their diploma.
"Financial literacy is meant to give students the tools necessary to make decisions in life they will need to make as soon as they graduate," Hukill told her colleagues, who named the bill after her a year ago.
House counterparts agreed with the need.
But when it came time to take up their version of the measure (HB 323) Tuesday, the House PreK-12 Quality Committee decided to make the course a suggestion rather than a requirement.
While calling it the most important bill of her House career, sponsor Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen put forward a committee substitute to change what had once been identical to Hukill's SB 88.
The amended version would have schools provide students the "opportunity" to learn about such skills as balancing a checkbook and completing a loan application as part of a half-credit elective course. But the language that every freshman entering high school in 2018-19 and beyond "shall earn one-half credit in personal financial literacy and money management" is gone.
That did not sit well with financial service sector leaders, who had along with Hukill and others pushed for such a requirement since 2014.
"We are only opposed in that we'd rather see it a requirement," said Anthony DiMarco of the Florida Bankers Association. "We support the underlying issue."
Others pointed out that, lacking a mandate, the bill simply would do what many Florida school districts already do — offer room to provide an optional financial literacy course. Yet reports and research suggest that too many students leave high school unprepared for the money decisions they will have to make, they suggested.
"It's true," said Rep. Shevrin Jones, a Broward County Democrat. "Our students, when they graduate from high school, they are swarmed with the credit card industry when they get to campus. … They don't know how to use it."
He and other members said they, too, would like to see the course become a graduation requirement. But getting the idea onto the books as its own separate course, rather than as a piece of economics, is a positive first step, they said, as they favorably moved the legislation to the Education Committee, its next and final stop before the full House.
Last year, the House did not approve the financial literacy course bill after its Senate passage.