Pointing to high credit card balances, growing student loan debts and inadequate savings for many U.S. households, Anchorage Sen. Bill Wielechowski believes it is important to teach students "to avoid common financial pitfalls and manage their money successfully."
He has proposed legislation that would require Alaska high schools to teach a financial literacy course. His bill also would require that students complete the course to earn their diploma.
The course would have to cover managing a bank account, setting a budget, credit card debt, insurance, loans, financial fraud and scams, college and vocational training scholarships, savings and retirement accounts and taxes.
The senator proposes that school districts start offering the course in the 2025-2026 school year, and that the graduation requirement start applying to students in 2026.
This is the first time Wielechowski has offered such legislation. He picked up on the idea after hearing about similar programs in almost two dozen other states.
"It will teach students the ability to understand and manage their personal finances," he said when he introduced his bill to the Senate Education Committee last month.
The committee heard Senate Bill 99 again on April 5, with a third hearing set for Friday. If the committee approves the legislation, it could move to the full Senate for a vote and would then need to win House approval before the May 17 adjournment deadline or be held over for consideration next year.
Flora Teo, president of Juneau Achievement of Alaska, testified in support of the bill at the Education Committee meeting on April 5. The legislation, she said, has the same goal as Junior Achievement: "Ensuring that the youth of today enter adulthood with an understanding of the fundamentals of personal finance."
Financial literacy, she said, "connects for students why education is important and how it affects their lives" and their earnings.
Bradley Loncar, a University of Alaska Anchorage student, told committee members that he participated in Junior Achievement every year while in high school. "Because of the things I learned there," such as taxes, credit scores and budgeting, "these lessons ... have helped me greatly over the years."
For example, he said, he saved and bought his first car with cash, "and I am very careful about not taking any additional debt." Speaking in support of a financial literacy course in high school, Loncar said "these are skills I use every day."