Summer is in full swing, and high school seniors are enjoying their time off as they anxiously wait for the first day of college. In addition to fall football games, research papers and freshman parties, students have another thing to look forward to debt. By the time college graduation rolls around, students can owe $20,000 or more to creditors when they combine their student loans with their credit card balances.

Many of Louisiana’s best and brightest start their first jobs using the bulk of their paychecks to pay these bills. The state is working to change this, however, and high schools will soon prepare students for their financial futures by teaching them how to manage their money, use credit wisely and develop savings plans. The Legislature has approved a plan to add courses in high school that will put our young people on the right path to financial independence.

Senate Bill 38, authored by Sen. Paulette R. Irons and backed by the Jump$tart Coalition for Personal Financial Literacy, is now Act 296 of the 2003 Regular Legislative Session. The new law amends the free enterprise curriculum in public schools to include personal finance instruction beginning in the 2004-2005 school year. This program will help students learn about the responsibilities and rewards that come with careful financial planning.

As a member of the Louisiana Jump$tart Coalition, I am thrilled this legislation has passed, because the program works. In fact, 86 percent of students who have participated in similar programs in other states walked away with a better understanding of finances and money. The program will give high school students the tools they need to value savings and avoid the debt trap.

Teachers are already gearing up for this new curriculum and nearly 300 educators are participating in a six-hour NEFE High School Financial Planning Program sponsored by the Louisiana Cooperative Extension Service and the LSU Ag Center. Dr. Jeanette Tucker, a specialist in family economics, is coordinating workshops with other university instructors and financial experts. There is no charge to attend, however pre-registration is required.

Amending the free enterprise curriculum to include instruction in personal finance prepares high school graduates to face college and first jobs with fiscal responsibility. Personal financial instruction is one of the most important and practical things we can teach our students. If kids are not learning about money management at home, they will now learn it at school. We are giving our young people a financial road map to guide them after graduation, and I am confident they will use it.

Free Enterprise teachers interested in registering for a future seminar should contact Dr. Tucker or Donna Shaffers at (225) 578-6701. The Louisiana Jump$tart Coalition pays a $110 stipend to each teacher that completes the course.