TRENTON – Legislation sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Steve Sweeney which creates a three-year pilot program to provide high school students with financial literacy education was signed into law last week by Governor Corzine.
“This bill represents a significant step forward in making sure New Jersey’s students get the education they need in personal finance to make good financial decisions later in life,” said Senator Sweeney, D-Gloucester, Cumberland and Salem. “Whether it’s personal credit history, interest rate calculations or planning for retirement, too many students leave high school without an understanding of even basic financial concepts. For many, this ignorance has directly contributed to an epidemic of living and spending beyond their means, and it’s time we do something to counter the credit card culture mentality that has forced so many of our State’s youth to be saddled with crippling and massive debt.”
The bill, S-2211, requires the Commissioner of Education to establish a three-year pilot program to provide high school seniors with financial literacy courses in selected school districts. Under the bill, the Commissioner will select six districts to participate – two in South Jersey, two in Central Jersey, and two in North Jersey – and will select these districts to represent a cross section of urban, suburban and rural districts in the State. The Department of Education will be required to provide sample curriculum and instructional materials, a grant to each pilot district to offset the cost of offering the financial literacy instruction, and a report to the Governor and the Legislature at the conclusion of the pilot program on the implementation of the curriculum within the pilot districts, and the possibility of implementing a State-wide financial literacy program.
“I strongly believe that this pilot program is going to demonstrate a real need for a permanent, Statewide personal finance curriculum,” said Senator Sweeney. “Students in New Jersey and around the nation are bombarded every day with advertisement campaigns designed to get them to buy the next must-have product, and too many are all too willing to swipe the credit card to get the next important status symbol. Education is our best weapon to combat the overspending which has contributed to our country’s ever-growing credit card debt.”
According to Senator Sweeney, national statistics show that students are accumulating debt at an early age, and making unwise financial decisions. A CBS News report in 2007 noted that almost one-third of high school seniors and more than three quarters of college freshmen nationally have already accumulated credit card debt. The Center for the New American Dream found that over half of all college students in the country carry four or more credit cards by the time they leave school. These numbers are most likely even higher as college students look for ways to fund their education during the current economic crisis.
“New Jersey is an expensive place to live and raise a family, but it gets even more expensive if most of your paycheck is going to pay down credit card interest,” said Senator Sweeney. “So many young New Jerseyans find out all too late that living in a credit card culture carries a price. By educating students at an early age about the consequences of financial instability and credit card debt, we can hopefully help them to avoid bad decisions they will only regret when they’re ready to settle down and start a family of their own.”
The bill received final legislative approval from the Senate in June.