I truly believe, based on my 36 years teaching, that financial literacy is among the most critical skills we can teach young people headed off to college or the work world. So I’m glad that Gov. Ron DeSantis has just signed legislation guaranteeing that every student in Florida will take a personal finance course before they cross that high school graduation stage and enter the real world.
I was taught that hard work is the key to success and I still believe that, as I am both a teacher and longtime entrepreneur. But hard work is not enough, and educators and political leaders need to understand how important knowledge about money is to young people today.
One of my students came to me this year for help with his FAFSA, that document everyone applying to college must complete if they want to qualify for financial aid. His parents do not speak or read English, so I walked him through each step, from filling it out to signing it to having his parents sign it and provide tax information.
Finally, when he had successfully completed the form, he asked when he would find out how much aid he would receive. He hadn’t yet applied to any schools, so I helped him through that process. He was going to apply locally, and once he did, he received word that he qualified for more than $10,000 in grants and loans.
Many students today don’t know what a resume really is, what it should describe and how long it should be, so I am always busy assisting young men and women with this.
My students learn about 1040s and many other financial issues. This past fall, we again competed in the Junior Achievement Stock Market Challenge of Miami, and my students were so excited when they won prizes for excelling in the competition. But they were more proud that they learned the right way to invest in the stock market.
I use many free online resources in my teaching, including this great class starter — the question of the day from Next Gen Personal Finance, which covers managing credit, saving for college, budgeting and much more. The other day, the question was about subscriptions for apps, and my students were quite surprised at the average amount consumers spend on apps. They learned another important lesson — that apps that appear to be free initially, often add a surprise monthly fee later.
Showing young people how they can go to college for free, help their parents save money, find a job while enrolled in a local community college — all these skills may be taken for granted by some, but my students are eager for this knowledge.
I teach about 40 percent of seniors at our school, and there are a few other teachers who touch on personal finance. But I believe that every student should take this kind of course. Unfortunately, just 10 states nationwide require a full semester course, which means just 1 of 5 students graduates have the opportunity to develop the financial skills they need to thrive.
That means Florida is the 11th state to guarantee a personal finance course to every high school student. I can’t think of a better graduation present!
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Antonio Paz is both a longtime economics teacher and graduate of Coral Gables High School.