Evers signs bill requiring financial literacy instruction in Wisconsin

Legislation requiring Wisconsin high school students learn about topics like money management, investing, and debt passed with overwhelming bipartisan support despite criticisms the mandate is unfunded.

The Badger Project

December 7, 2023

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Tony Evers holds an open folder with a document on one side while seated at a table with a glass surface, reflecting people who are standing behind and around him and applauding, in a room with electric wall sconces, the U.S. and Wisconsin flags and a painting.

Gov. Tony Evers displays the signed law that requires Wisconsin high school students study financial literacy, surrounded by advocates including students, teachers and legislators on Dec. 6, 2023, at the Wisconsin State Capitol in Madison. (Credit: Courtesy of the Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions)

Badger Project

By Peter Cameron, The Badger Project

Democratic Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers signed a bill on Dec. 6 that mandates high schools teach at least one semester of financial literacy to every student in the state.

Starting with the class of 2028, the bill requires high school students earn at least one semester of personal financial literacy that includes financial mindset, education and employment, money management, saving and investing, credit and debt, and risk management and insurance.

“It is impossible to win the money game if you don’t know the rules,” said Patrick Kubeny, a recently retired personal finance teacher at Rhinelander High School in a press release. “This bill will ensure, at the very least, that each and every Wisconsin student will be provided the chance to learn those vital money rules.”

The bill was authored by state Sen. Joan Ballweg, R-Markesan, a former first-grade teacher, and Rep. Alex Dallman, R-Green Lake, and generally a sharp critic of the governor.

“I am thrilled to see that the governor signed this important piece of legislation into law,” Dallman said in a press release. “Financial literacy in schools will ensure our students have the skills they need to succeed.”

The bill easily passed the 99-member Assembly with a vote of 95-1. Milwaukee Democrat state Rep. Ryan Clancy was the lone dissent. In the 33-member state Senate, the bill passed with a bipartisan vote of 29-4. Republican state Senators Duey Stroebel, Steve Nass and Mary Felzkowski and Democratic state Sen. Jeff Smith were the only nays.

Smith, a rare Wisconsin Democratic legislator who represents a significant rural population, said he opposed the bill because the Legislature provided no funding.

“Imposing an unfunded mandate on school districts is not the example we should set for important programs like financial literacy,” he wrote in a statement to The Badger Project. “We cannot continue asking more and more from our educators and schools without providing the resources needed because students are the ones who are most affected.”

But most resistance to the bill waned when it was amended from requiring a full-year course to just one semester and once legislators learned that free curriculum and educational training on financial literacy are available to teachers and districts, one source with insider knowledge said. Also, many high schools in Wisconsin already require a semester of financial literacy.

The governor had proposed $5 million in his most recent state budget proposal for a competitive grant program, to which schools could apply, that would have funded financial literacy classes. But Republicans stripped that out of the final budget earlier in 2023.

Wisconsin becomes the 24th state to make personal finance a required course for high schoolers, noted Tim Ranzetta, co-founder of Next Gen Personal Finance, a nonprofit whose mission is for every student in the country be required to take at least one semester of financial literacy by 2030. The organization advocated for the bill in the Wisconsin Legislature.

Next Gen Personal Finance offers free curriculum and teacher training in the subject.

The Badger Project is a nonpartisan, citizen-supported journalism nonprofit in Wisconsin.

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