Financial literacy bill must be passed

January 9, 2024

House Bill 203, sponsored by Rep. Jeff Hilovsky, R-Millsboro, would require high school students, beginning with students entering the ninth grade in the 2025-26 school year, to take and pass a minimum of a half-credit course on financial literacy in order to graduate.

This bill follows previous legislation enacted in 2016 that established a task force to study and make findings and recommendations concerning financial literacy education in Delaware public schools. Financial Literacy Content Standards were developed and adopted, effective with the 2018-19 school year, presumably resulting from the work of this task force. 

Requiring students to take and pass a course on financial literacy to graduate, however, will now make the teaching of this extremely important subject matter a priority. The legislative findings of fact set forth in HB 203 more than justify the need for this relatively minor addition to graduation requirements: 1. About 60% of households live paycheck to paycheck; 2. About 40% of Americans have less than $300 in savings; 3. About 33% of Americans have no retirement savings and 95% of Americans have insufficient retirement savings; and 4. About 87% of American teenagers admit not understanding finances.

While these findings of fact should be sufficient to support and overcome any opposition to the enactment of HB 203, there have been recent studies that make the need to enact HB 203 obvious and a very pressing matter: 1. The 2023 National Report Card on State Efforts to Improve Financial Literacy in High Schools gives Delaware a C and projects that Delaware will retain its C grade through 2028 if no action is taken to address this deficiency; 2. A 2022 study by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority Investor Foundation found that there is a steady decline in people’s financial literacy, with younger adults (ages 18-39), women and African Americans experiencing even greater financial literacy drops when compared with other demographic groups.

Moreover, both the state’s legislative branch and the executive branch are required by Article X, Section 1 of the Delaware Constitution to provide for the establishment and maintenance of a general and efficient system of free public schools. The Delaware courts have interpreted this constitutional provision to mean the state is obligated to “create a system of public schools that educates Delaware’s children.” The courts have further explained that the meaning of education is the act or process of educating or learning. Finally, the courts have opined that “[i]t is not possible to divorce a mandate to establish and maintain a system of public schools from the expectation that the schools will educate the students who attend them.” HB 203 is fully consistent with this constitutional mandate, and the pressing need it intends to address warrants immediate action to pass and enact the bill into law.

This constitutional mandate may also require action in another public education matter that has been recently reported on by this paper and others. The Department of Education has reportedly rejected Cape Henlopen School District’s request for funding to expand its facilities to reasonably address and accommodate a rapidly expanding enrollment and overcrowding of its existing facilities. For those citizens who are of the opinion that the state has largely turned a blind eye toward what some believe is inappropriate overdevelopment (i.e., far in excess of existing and proposed infrastructure improvements), the apparently unexplained rejection by the DOE of what appears to be a reasonable request by Cape Henlopen School District to address a situation that the state is at least partially responsible for warrants reconsideration at the very least in light of what the Delaware Constitution mandates.

The public expects our government to be accountable and responsive to its needs. On the one hand, HB 203 is an excellent example of government accountability and responsiveness. On the other hand, the DOE’s rejection of Cape district’s reasonable request for legitimate financial assistance, apparently without much if any explanation, may be considered by some to be a good example of government’s unaccountability and nonresponsiveness.

William Mailander is an accomplished strategic thinker and creative problem solver with 12-plus years of senior management experience with a top 200 national nonprofit organization.
  • Cape Gazette commentaries are written by readers whose occupations, education, community positions or demonstrated focus in particular areas offer an opportunity to expand our readership's understanding or awareness of issues of interest.

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