Financial literacy programs should be a priority in Florida

SunSentinel Viewpoint Letter

JOHN RAY III
Board Chairman
Junior Achievement of South Florida

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My family -- like millions of others launching teens into the maze of work, bills, credit cards and debt -- knows the anxiety that transition brings. Have we taught them enough? Are they ready to avoid money management pitfalls and to spot financial fraud?

In Florida and around the U.S., the answer is too often in doubt. Dismally-low levels of financial literacy point to future problems in business, investment and family life. In a 2014 national survey of young Millennials, age 18 to 26, just 18 percent could correctly answer four or five basic questions on a five-question financial literacy quiz, the FINRA Investor Education Foundation found.

This spring, as Florida’s legislators debate whether to require financial literacy credits in high school, they bring a crucial, wider issue to light. Students need to learn career, financial and entrepreneurship skills throughout their K-12th grade years. Fortunately, South Florida’s educators and business community partnered years ago to establish one of America’s most robust financial literacy and entrepreneurship education efforts.

Junior Achievement of South Florida and its 4,600 local volunteers are reaching more than 47,000 students this year, including all fifth and eighth-grade classes in Broward and South Palm Beach County’s public, and many private, schools. Statewide, Junior Achievement of Florida’s nine branches empowered 322,546 students last school year, with more than 30,000 volunteers delivering proven, highly-rated programs and experiential learning under classroom teachers’ supervision. Funding its statewide budget of over $13.5 million almost completely through individual, foundation and corporate donations, Junior Achievement ensures that students gain the knowledge, skills and attitudes needed for success in higher education or entry into a career field.

How much difference can JA programming make? For me, the experience was life-changing. In eighth grade, as president of our JA company at Coral Springs Middle School, I came face-to-face with real-world budgeting, teamwork, inventory and marketing challenges. We turned a razor-thin profit that year, but I was hooked. Owning my own business became a clear path for my career –- and for ensuring other young people widened their horizons through JA. In Broward, JA World Huizenga Center –- one of the nation’s largest hands-on financial education facilities – makes students’ experience especially memorable.

In this Florida Legislative session, Junior Achievement of Florida is asking lawmakers to grant $575,000, to be matched by private-sector donors. That grant would enable JA to serve an additional 12,500 middle and high school students. It’s a rare request. JA has received only $400,000 in state funds through the years.

If you agree South Florida’s students need to know basics of business, economics, citizenship, entrepreneurship, financial literacy and career development, ask your state legislators to support Junior Achievement of Florida’s grant request now, while funding decisions are being debated. To help ongoing, please consider lending your time and talents as one of the fantastic, trained volunteers who bring JA’s programs to life.

John Ray, III is Chairman of the Junior Achievement of South Florida Board of Directors and President of Sonitrol in Fort Lauderdale. He wrote this for the Sun Sentinel.