Bill that would make financial education a high school graduation requirement in Washington passes out of committee

By Ellen Dennis, The Spokesman-Review | Published: February 22, 2024, 1:55pm

OLYMPIA — Washington public school students may soon be required to take a financial education class prior to graduating high school.

On Wednesday, a bill that would make the requirement a state-mandated law passed out of the Senate Committee on Early Learning & K-12 Education, moving it one step closer on its path to a final floor vote.

The bill is backed by State Treasurer Mike Pellicciotti, along with 22 state lawmakers from across the aisle, including Spokane County Reps. Jenny Graham, Timm Ormsby, Marcus Riccelli and Suzanne Schmidt.

If passed, the bill would add financial education to the current list of state-mandated high school graduation requirements.

It would not change the total number of credits students need to get their diplomas — 24 — but rather embed a half-credit’s worth of instruction into that existing credit total.

Pellicciotti has spent months trying to pick up support for the financial education requirement.

“No matter your pathway in life, basic financial skills are foundational for prosperity building and making the most of new opportunities,” Pellicciotti said Wednesday afternoon. “Today’s bipartisan committee vote signals that Washington is ready to equip the next generation with the tools to thrive and navigate their own future.”

The bill passed in a unanimous vote on the House floor earlier this month. On Wednesday, the Senate’s K-12 education committee gave it the green flag to move forward just hours before the deadline to pass bills out of most legislative committees.

The treasurer told The Spokesman-Review that local lawmakers Riccelli, D-Spokane, and Sen. Andy Billig, D-Spokane, were “instrumental” in getting the bill out of committee before the cutoff deadline.

If it gets signed into law, the bill would give school districts a couple of years to implement the new curriculum before it officially becomes required starting in the 2027-2028 academic year. The requirement would apply to charter schools and state-tribal compact schools along with public schools.

Pellicciotti has paid a visit to all of Washington’s 39 counties, he said last month in a public hearing.

“One of the things that I’ve consistently heard time and time again from folks is that they wished they had more foundational training for financial education,” the treasurer said, “no matter who you talk to, no matter the age.”

The bill has given pause to some who fear teachers don’t have enough room in their already packed curricula to add a whole new topic.

Medical Lake Teachers’ Union president Ryan Grant previously told The Spokesman-Review that it’s hard for educators to find the space to embed new topics into a curriculum and meet all the current standardized test requirements at the same time.

“When you try to put financial literacy with something that isn’t financial literacy, there’s going to be a trade-off with how well it’s taught,” Grant said.

Supporters of the bill say its necessity outweighs scheduling challenges as the cost of living and wage gap continue to grow in the state and across the United States.

Paula Sardinas testified in support of the new law on behalf of the Washington Build Back Black Alliance, saying the requirement would help Black, Indigenous and other communities of color in the state.

“These challenges contribute to the perpetuation of generational poverty,” Sardinas said, “making financial education a critical tool for breaking the cycle.”

The Washington Legislature convened for its first day on Jan. 8. This year, the 60-day session is scheduled to end on March 7.

Ellen Dennis’ work is funded in part by members of the Spokane community via the Community Journalism and Civic Engagement Fund. This story can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.

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