Advocacy In Action: Inspiring Testimony from Brett Burkey of Florida

Apr 17, 2019

Here's the video with Brett's testimony starting around 27:30:

Good Afternoon.

My name is Brett Burkey, I’ve taught high school in Palm Beach County for nearly 35 years and I’m the Assistant Director of the FAU Center for Economic Education, providing professional development for teachers of Economics and Personal Finance in South Florida and around the state.  I thank you for the opportunity to speak in support of House Bill 73.

Financial literacy is a 21st Century survival skill and too many of our students enter adulthood inadequately prepared for the burden they have to shoulder in navigating the modern financial landscape.

Currently, personal finance standards are found embedded in an already crowded half credit Economics course taught to high school seniors.  In eighteen weeks, a teacher must cover the fundamentals of Economics, the American market system and alternative systems in other countries, principles of labor and market structures, cost curves and marginal production, forms of business, role of government, taxation, fiscal policy, monetary policy, international trade, economics theory…and then decision making, budgeting, earning money, spending, saving, checking, paying for college, insurance, careers, investing, and credit.  The result is that both content areas are taught inadequately and the student leaves dissatisfied. Many teachers won’t even attempt to address both subjects. I am arguably the most experienced and qualified high school economics teacher in the state. I teach Advanced Placement and general economics. My answer to this problem, unfortunately, is to rely on online modules and self-instruction curriculums. I don’t have the time to provide the real-world applications necessary to deliver meaningful lessons.  

These days, we teach a lot that isn’t going to matter, in a significant way, in students’ lives. There’s also much we aren’t teaching that would be a better return on investment. While we all studied the process of mitosis in high school, how many of us use that knowledge today?  Personal finance education is a lifeworthy pursuit, it will be remembered because it will be used. Financial knowledge should be cast as a type of investment in human capital. There is a growing body of academic evidence that associates financial education requirements with fewer defaults and higher credit scores among young adults.  Exposure to personal finance course requirements reduces engaging in adverse behaviors like payday borrowing and increases full-time college attendance. Those who build financial savvy early can earn above average expected returns and significantly improve wealth accumulation throughout their life-cycle.

My students ask me all the time questions like: How do I get an apartment?  How do you cash checks and pay bills? What is a credit score? What’s the difference between a credit and debit card?  I am shocked at how weak their numeracy skills are. Poor numeracy is a strong predictor of incurring high transaction costs in borrowing, the inability to judge indebtedness, and a greater likelihood of engaging in costly credit card behavior.

We have a moral obligation to advance financial literacy, who else is going to do it?  Offering financial education in high school is the most scalable and economical approach.  We teach kids to drive and wear seatbelts. We teach them how to avoid identity theft. But we’re willing to send them out into a field of financial landmines without a map?  If they leave high school without the fundamentals of good financial decision making, where are they going to pick them up? Their parents? (Many struggle with financial issues themselves).  In college? (Students are already deeply in debt by then). The financial services industry? (With an incentive to sell products, they could be a wolf in sheep’s clothing). What about the child who doesn’t pursue education past high school or the one who never finishes?  These are the most vulnerable people with their limited life-time earnings. Wouldn’t they benefit from this exposure to good decisions and positive outcomes?

Personal finance is worthy of a stand-alone course and should be a requirement for all students.  The majority of students don’t drop out of college for academic reasons rather as the victims of poor financial planning.  A framework of knowledge has to be established before young people succumb to misuse of credit, high transaction costs, unmanageable debt and loss of wealth.  

Although Florida has implemented reforms such as Choice programs, virtual school, added rigor through A.P. and A.I.C.E. courses and assessments, those reforms have done little to address the antiquated main frame of the high school course sequence.  In effect, we are addressing 21st Century needs with 20th Century tools. Employers today want job applicants with numeracy skills and a healthy credit score. It is our responsibility to prepare students for the road ahead. Financial literacy will make the journey a lot less daunting.  Please make House Bill 73 a reality in every high school in Florida.

Thank you.


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