A Republican legislature has made it his mission to educate Delaware’s youth on finances.
Rep. Jeff Hilovsky, R-Millsboro, has proposed a bill that would require public schools to teach financial literacy, which is essentially how to make smart decisions about money.
“I’ve kind of taken this on as a badge of honor,” he said.
Hilovsky said he has noticed his students had a significant lack of awareness about anything financial in his experience as an adjunct professor at the University of Missouri and Salus University in Elkins Park, Pennsylvania.
Several legislators and a school board member hailed the idea.
“Americans typically face a variety of financial struggles, such as difficulty budgeting, saving and investing, as well as difficulty understanding credit and debt,” said Naveed Baqir, a board member of Christina School District. “They also struggle to make informed decisions about their financial future, leading to costly mistakes and missed opportunities.”
Rep. Ruth Briggs King, R-Georgetown, said better preparation and understanding of finances will result in better outcomes for most students.
“We frequently hear that poor financial decisions at an early age result in staggering debt for many people,” she said. “A mistake on student loans, payday and title loans can last a lifetime.”
It’s important to note the elements of financial literacy will include critical reading, math skills and other education standards and will complement instruction in a practical manner, she said.
Most high schools used to require a few weeks of financial literacy classes, which included a bit of how the economy worked, but also practical matters such as saving and checking accounts, check-writing, paying bills, the use of credit cards, how interest is earned, the value of budgets and more.
Those classes began fading away in the 1980s along with home economics and typing (which was replaced by keyboarding and taught in elementary schools).
Hilovsky plans to circulate his proposed bill for additional sponsors in the General Assembly and formally introduce it to the General Assembly soon.
It will require high schools to provide a minimum of a half-credit course on financial literacy, beginning with students entering ninth grade in the 2025-2026 school year.
Students will need to pass the course to graduate and earn their diploma.
He points out that data shows 60% of U.S. households live paycheck to paycheck, 40% of Americans have less than $300 in savings, 33% of Americans have saved nothing for retirement, 95% of Americans have not saved enough for retirement and 87% of American teens admit to not understanding their finances.
“Teaching financial literacy in schools is something that I’ve been supportive of for many years,” said Sen. Brian Pettyjohn, R-Georgetown. “Too many times, our youth fail to understand the consequences of their financial decisions once they become adults.”
Giving them the tools to make wise decisions about their finances is extremely important for their long-term success, he said.
Schools can adopt individual curricula to meet the requirement.
“It’s probably going to be a little bit different instruction like in a town like Laurel versus somebody in center city Wilmington,” Hilovsky said. “Their life experiences are different so I think they should have the right to pick and choose which individual subjects they’re going to teach within the course.”
The act requires the course to include instruction that meets the financial literacy standards for high school students laid out by the Department of Education.
Required financial literacy topics are:
- Introduction to behavioral economics, including understanding the impact of life experiences and biases on personal money management decisions and habits
- Understanding the benefits of disciplined and regular savings to achieve financial goals and the power of compounding returns and interest
- Introduction to the why and how of different types of risk assessment and investing strategies that lead to sustainable and long-term financial success and a self-sufficient retirement, including introduction and explanation of the Delaware Earns Program
- Understanding personal budgeting
- Understanding and managing credit and debt, including credit scores; types of credit to include credit cards, auto loans, mortgages, student loans, payday loans, and title loans; the benefits and methods of debt avoidance and repayment
- Understanding financial institutions, including understanding banking services, brokerage services, account fees, and the difference between fiduciary and non-fiduciary advisors
- Understanding personal and payroll-related taxes and the impact on disposable income
- Understanding career options, including college versus trade or technical school and entrepreneurship versus employment
- Comparing financial systems, including what works and what does not and why.
- Understanding philanthropy
- Insurance options
House Minority Whip Lyndon Yearick, R-Camden, said he doesn’t typically support of adding another public education mandate, but “sees the wisdom of this proposal.”
“Having a solid understanding of basic financial principles is especially critical for high school students, who will be making decisions about their future careers, what further education they will pursue, and how they will pay for it,” he said.
Americans also face difficulty managing their debt, Baqir said, which can lead to high interest rates and fees, as well as difficulty obtaining credit.
“Financial literacy is important for high school students because it helps them understand how to manage their money and make informed decisions about their financial future,” he said. “It helps them understand the basics of budgeting, saving, investing, and credit, which are all important skills to have as they enter adulthood.”
Hilovsky said there isn’t a parent in Delaware that would turn down the option of their children learning how to manage their money and be financially literate.
He said the course is suited for 11th- and 12th-graders, but specifically outlined it to be an elective, so students in ninth grade or later can enroll.
“This is where the legislature steps in and says ‘let’s make it fair,’” Hilovsky said. “Let’s level the playing field for all students, so that they all have a chance to take this information. Once you give somebody education and knowledge in this specific subject, you can never take that away.”
In crafting the bill, he said he noticed the schools that already have some sort of financial literacy curriculum are usually in wealthier areas, where schools that don’t have this information are often in poorer communities.
“If the schools in the poorest neighborhoods are not participating in that, then their kids are going to start off behind the power curve,” he said. “They’re just never going to be able to keep up… and they’ll really struggle to find their balance and could have this big debt around their neck forever.”
Many students quickly get into financial troubles because they aren’t educated in finances and then have to figure out everything for themselves on a whim once they graduate high school or college and enter adulthood.
Don Patton, a Christina board member who also sits on the Wilmington Learning Collaborative’s governing council, said he fully backs teaching financial literacy.
“I support any learning opportunities that expand our students ability to make good decisions,” he said. “So many young people do not realize how important and necessary it is to understand banking, credit worthiness, savings, and investments, which will all impact their financial livelihood.”
Many programs are free of charge to schools. Some cost money.
“The Dave Ramsey Solutions cost $2,500 and would be renewed each year,” Hilovsky said.
However, he said some banks or other financial institutions sometimes sponsor the curriculum.
Cape Henlopen High School, for example, has the Dave Ramsey Solution for select students and the Community Bank of Delaware funds the materials for the district, Hilovsky said.
“More than ever we hear about poverty, social determinants and health that impact the quality of life,” Briggs King said. “We can overcome many of these situations with basic understanding and application of decisions such as budgeting, saving and investing.”
Raised in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, Jarek earned a B.A. in journalism and a B.A. in political science from Temple University in 2021. After running CNN’s Michael Smerconish’s YouTube channel, Jarek became a reporter for the Bucks County Herald before joining Delaware LIVE News.
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