News: CJ Exclusives

Budget impasse frustrates preparation for financial literacy course requirement 

North Carolina’s failure to pass a budget could affect a state-mandated financial literacy course requirement for all public high schools.

Gov. Roy Cooper in July signed House Bill 924, which made completing a financial literacy course a requirement for graduation. Ninth-graders starting classes in the 2020-21 school year will have to complete the course to graduate.

Although the bill requiring the financial literacy course has become law, teachers needed training for the course. A provision in the budget allows teachers to receive a $500 stipend for training. That stipend, however, depends on them completing the N.C. Council of Economic Education Test of Economic Literacy and the Working in Support of Education personal finance test. 

Under the budget, money in the 2019-20 appropriation to the state Department of Public Instruction was set aside as a grant for NCCEE to provide the professional development course, administer the tests, and pay a stipend to either the teacher or the teacher’s employer. 

Cooper vetoed the budget June 28, and since then the General Assembly has been locked in a budget stalemate with the governor. The House has kept the budget veto override on the calendar for several weeks but has yet to vote on it, most likely because Republicans don’t have enough votes to override the veto. 

Rep. Craig Horn, R-Union, said the financial literacy course requirement doesn’t need the budget to be law. But without a budget, implementing the requirement will be more difficult.

“The bottom line is we can limp along with the financial literacy requirement, but it would be very challenging and possibly impossible for some [school districts],” Horn said. “Many of our public high schools already offer a financial literacy course, and they could enroll more students in the course.”

But, Horn said, that could put a significant burden on the state’s teaching corps, as the state lacks enough qualified teachers to implement the requirement in every public high school.

Horn said some financial institutions across the state have indicated a willingness to help provide training, funds, or teaching materials for a serious course in financial literacy. But what the law — and the state — really needs is a budget, Horn said.

“The lack of an enacted budget is devastating to our state and our future,” Horn said. “The governor and the General Assembly must set aside political differences and get the budget bill into law.”

Christie Lynch Ebert, director of K-12 Standards, Curriculum, and Instruction Division at the Department of Public Instruction, said DPI has started working to develop the financial literacy course.

Under the law, the course will have to meet the standards of the second edition of the Voluntary National Content Standards in Economics and the 2013 National Standards for Financial Literacy created by the Council for Economic Education. 

“We are committed to the development of a shared CTE/Social Studies Economics and Personal Finance course that students will be required to complete prior to high school graduation beginning with entering freshman in the 2020-21 School Year,” Ebert said 

While the state is working to figure out how to prepare teachers to teach the course requirement, the private sector is stepping in, albeit indirectly, to help.

Campbell University, for instance, is working to help teachers through a free economics and personal finance workshop. 

During the first full week of August, the Lundy-Fetterman School of Business at Campbell University hosted a free five-day training seminar for K-12 teachers to enhance their knowledge of economics. This is the second year the school held the Economics Institute for Educators event. 

Teachers from Harnett, Wake, and surrounding counties took part in free workshops covering microeconomics, macroeconomics, and international economics. The workshop ran Aug. 5-9 at the Campbell School of Law in Raleigh. 

The event was a joint effort among Campbell University’s School of Business and its Center for Financial Literacy and Economic Education, as well as the Virginia Tech Center for Economic Education, the N.C. Council on Economic Education, the Harnett County School System, the Campbell University College of Arts & Sciences, School of Education, and School of Law. 

Teachers who complete the course received a virtual economics flash drive containing more than 1,400 K-12 lesson plans for economics, personal finance, and entrepreneurship. Participating teachers received a certificate of completion for 40 hours of professional development. 

The economic professional development opportunity comes at a time when financial literacy will be a bigger priority for high schools. Although the Economic Institute for Educators workshop isn’t directly related to training teachers to teach the financial literacy course, Sandy Wheat, NCCEE executive director, said it might help prepare them for it.

“The Econ for Educators workshop was planned well in advance of the bill becoming law,” Wheat said. “We have been providing professional development in economics and personal finance for nearly 50 years, and this is one of our many ongoing offerings that is being presented in partnership with Campbell University.”

Cheryl Ayers, co-director of the Center for Economic Education at Virginia Tech, which provided the five-day professional development program, said the training her program provides will better inform teachers on how to teach economics and personal finance. 

Ayers said learning about how the economy works is vitally important, as is understanding personal finance.

“Our nation is largely made up of economic illiterate citizens, so that becomes a problem because we are all participants in the economy day-by-day, minute-by-minute as producers, consumers, and recipients of public government services. So we operate within the economy, but we don’t know how it works,” Ayers said. “That’s a problem when it comes to making good decisions.”