Pennsylvania State Sen. Dan Laughlin wants high schools to teach students personal finance — and give them academic credits for the class.

He’s the lead author of Senate Bill 723, which could introduce commonsense financial education to high schoolers, many of whom graduate without understanding what they’re getting into when they sign up for a student loan. Pennsylvania college grads, as we’ve written, rank No. 1 in the nation for student debt load, with an average $36,193 loan balance. Delaware and New Jersey rank third and 12th, respectively.

How about a little preventative education?

Laughlin, a Republican representing Erie County, first introduced the bill in June.

Republican state senator Dan Laughlin introduced a bill for high school students to get credit for studying personal finance.
Courtesy: Senator Dan Laughlin
Republican state senator Dan Laughlin introduced a bill for high school students to get credit for studying personal finance.

Kids who successfully complete a course in personal finance during grades nine through 12 can apply up to one credit to satisfy social studies, family and consumer science, mathematics, or business education requirements for graduation, at the school’s discretion.

The bill says course material must include "understanding financial institutions, using money, learning to manage personal assets and liabilities, creating budgets, and any other factors that may assist an individual in this commonwealth to be financially responsible.“

The bill applies to all public high schools including charters and technical schools. If passed, the law’s enactment would be revenue-neutral, Laughlin claims. So how exactly districts will pay for this is not clear.

If the bill passes both the Senate and the House this year, students graduating from high school at the end of the 2020-21 school year would be the first to benefit.

“We voted it out of the Senate, 49-0 in favor,” said Laughlin. “So it’s obviously a popular bill, and it gives the [school] districts flexibility in how they implement it.”

Now the bill will be handed over to a committee in the House, and if and when completed would go for a vote, likely under the direction of Rep. Curt Sonney, chair of the House Education Committee.

Best case, “it’s on track to pass in the spring of 2020, plenty of time to implement in the coming school year,” Laughlin said.

Bill cosponsors include Wayne Langerholc, senator for Bedford, Cambria and Clearfield Counties, who chairs the Senate Education Committee.

Like the idea? Call your local legislator and tell them.

New Jersey’s a step ahead. Earlier this year, Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver signed a bill mandating school districts to integrate financial literacy into every year of middle school. Classes started this month.

We’ve long advocated for personal finance classes starting (at the latest) in high school. And one Philadelphia teacher already got a jump on the bill.

Dan LaSalle and his co-teacher, Chris Bishop, have taught personal finance at Aspira Olney Charter High School for the last few years.

LaSalle, a teacher and administrator at Olney, founded Niche Clinic, which teaches students real-world money management, such as how to spend, save, and invest. Three years ago, he started with 25 students and a $25,000 grant from the Philadelphia Academy of School Leaders. Now he relies on donors and is seeking grants.

The Philadelphia Federal Reserve Bank trains teachers in personal finance and gives out coursework they can use in the classroom. In Pennsylvania and New Jersey, teachers can earn professional-development credit via the Fed’s programs.

To register and for information, go to philadelphiafed.org/education/teachers. The next session, “Kiddynomics,” for pre-K through second grade teachers, takes place Oct. 23.

LaSalle says that “for teens, you have to make it interesting, a little weird, a little offbeat, otherwise the kids just tune out.”

So he wrote his own textbook: Chasing Benjamins: Mr. LaSalle’s Guaranteed Guide to Becoming a Millionaire.

We’re attending his next class, on Tuesday,, when he’s teaching simple interest, and will report back.