Ballot initiative would make personal finance a high school graduation requirement

After two decades of failed efforts to persuade the Legislature, supporters of requiring that all high school students complete a course in personal finance have taken the first step toward putting the idea before voters next year.

A new group, Californians for Financial Education, has submitted wording of a proposed initiative to the California Attorney General to mandate a one-semester course for a diploma starting in 2029-30, with all districts offering the course in 2025-26. It would include topics like developing budgeting skills for independent living, learning the importance of credit while avoiding predatory loan practices, building an understanding of loans and college financing, learning about the tax system, and raising awareness of scams, fraud and identity theft.

Leading the effort is Tim Ranzetta, a Stanford Business School graduate and financial executive from Palo Alto, who came up with the idea after introducing a personal finance course as a volunteer for Eastside College Prep, a small private school for low-income students in East Palo Alto.

With educator Jessica Endlich, he cofounded the nonprofit Next Gen Personal Finance in 2014, which has provided curriculum and teacher training in personal finance for thousands of teachers, and launched the NGPF Mission 2030 Fund: Financial Education for All Fund to advocate for courses nationwide. According to its website, 23 states now require or are phasing in a personal finance course as a graduation requirement.

“California has lagged behind the rest of the nation when it comes to personal finance education, and this initiative would ensure that all students — regardless of where they go to school — have the equal opportunity to learn about personal finance skills,” Ranzetta said in a press release announcing the initiative effort.

Previous bills received initial support, but legislators either refused to pass the state-funded course mandate or watered down the bills to integrate personal finance skills into economics or consumer math courses. In the latest effort, Assemblymember Kevin McCarty, D-Sacramento, of Assembly Bill 984, withdrew an amended version that would have authorized an economics course, including personal finance skills, aligned to the existing history-social studies framework.

McCarty said his initial bill had plenty of support from legislators, but opponents questioned adding another graduation course on top of ethnic studies, which is scheduled to be required by 2029-30. “Personal finance is a key issue for youth, with ties to life skills and math,” he said.

“I’m floored that so many teenagers do not know the difference between a debit and a credit card or the impact of missing a payment on an introductory credit card rate.”

The proposed initiative would add personal finance to the set of 15 courses, known as A to G, that the University of California and the California State University require for admissions. Personal Finance would become a new “H” requirement.

Once the attorney general authorizes an official title and summary, the supporters can begin collecting signatures to put the initiative on the ballot. According to a survey touted by the backers, nearly 4 in 5 Californians said they would vote yes on the ballot question.

McCarty said the initiative has his full support.

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