PHOENIX - Twenty years ago, accountant Sharon Lechter decided to devote her career to financial education and literacy after her oldest son graduated from high school and soon fell into credit card debt.
"I realized when my own child had that kind of problem, what about the kids that aren't getting any financial education?" she said.
Now she and Pay Your Family First, the company she founded in 2007 to promote that education and literacy, are the driving forces behind a bill that would require Arizona high school students to display competency in personal finance in order to graduate.
SB 1449, authored by Sen. Kimberly Yee, R-Phoenix, was unanimously endorsed by the Senate Education Committee on Thursday.
Current state law requires high school students to demonstrate competency in reading, writing, math, science and social studies before graduating.
Lechter told the committee that Arizona should help students "so that they can become a master of their money, not a slave to their money."
She said Utah, Tennessee, Missouri and Virginia require semester-long personal finance classes for graduation.
Angela Totman, vice president and chief operating officer of Pay Your Family First, said that many students lack an understanding of the connections between the money they bring in and the money they owe.
"Our children are not leaving school with an understanding that as they take on debt and use credit, it will impact their cash flow and increase their expenses," she said. "They don't understand that that will impact their ability to provide for themselves in their future."
Chandler City Councilwoman Nora Ellen, who brought Lechter and Yee together, said that requiring competency in personal finance would help students succeed in life.
"The purpose of education, bottom line - I'm a bottom-line person - is to create quality lives," Ellen said. "The greatest life skill we can give our students is personal finance - managing money, understanding savings and entrepreneurial understanding."
The Arizona Department of Education doesn't have an official position on the bill but would want it to specify how schools could meet the requirement, said Chris Kotterman, its deputy associate superintendent for policy development and government relations.
Yee said that she wanted to give schools flexibility on meeting the requirement but would be open to addressing the issue.
"I will certainly work with those who might have some concerns on the clarity of this," she said.
Jennifer Loredo, a lobbyist for the Arizona Education Association, the state's largest teachers union, said that personal finance is already a requirement for high schools in the state's education standards. She said her organization supports teaching personal finance but not making it state law.
"Our concern is tweaking statute to start to specify little things that are already in the standards that are already being required to be taught," she said.
Current required competencies for Arizona high school students:
• Social Studies