During a recent lesson on budgeting and credit cards, Chris Sante’s students at Mastery Charter School-Pickett were brimming with questions — and some misconceptions.

“They thought the more credit cards they had, the better for their credit,” Sante said. He told the seniors — some of whom already had credit cards — that in some cases, opening too many lines of credit could actually hurt their credit score.

Similar discussions may soon be playing out in classrooms across Pennsylvania. Starting in the 2026-27 school year, a new law will require high schools to provide a course in personal financial literacy worth at least half a credit that students will have to take in order to graduate.

“No offense to biology teachers or calculus teachers, but this class is going to be information they are going to use every day of their life,” said State Sen. Chris Gebhard (R., Lebanon), who proposed the requirement that became law last month.

Pennsylvania is one of 25 states that have enacted a personal finance requirement — a trend that has been advocated by groups like Next Gen Personal Finance, a nonprofit pushing for all high school students to take a semester of personal finance before graduating.

Christian Sherrill, director of advocacy for Next Gen, said it hired a lobbyist in Pennsylvania and worked with Gebhard to craft the legislation, which made Pennsylvania one of eight states to adopt a requirement in 2023.

“We want students to be able to make smart decisions about money in the real world,” Sherrill said, noting that high school students are already making financial decisions — whether saving for a car, or deciding what path to take after high school.

While “momentum is definitely building” around states adopting course requirements, Sherrill said, the next challenge is implementation — a process that has yet to be worked out in Pennsylvania.

» READ MORE: Gov. Phil Murphy signs a law to make N.J. first state to require media literacy for K-12

The new law didn’t mandate what topics schools must include in teaching financial literacy. Instead, it directs the Pennsylvania Department of Education to develop model curriculum and resources, aligned with state academic standards reviewed by the state Board of Education.

The state Board of Education is currently working on updating those standards to incorporate financial literacy, said Mackenzie Christiana, spokesperson for the Pennsylvania School Boards Association.

The school boards association had pushed back on the initial proposal, arguing that local districts should have authority over graduation requirements. But without a mandate, Gebhard said, there’s too much inequity in which students have access to financial literacy education — with most schools already offering the courses located in more affluent areas, according to Gebhard.

» READ MORE: Pennridge approves cut to social studies requirements despite widespread opposition

There was also disagreement over what form the requirement should take. Gebhard said the legislation was crafted to require that personal finance be a stand-alone course, though Christiana said the school boards association believed schools could teach financial literacy within current courses and meet the new law’s requirements.

An education department spokesperson didn’t respond to requests for comment.

In Pennsylvania last year, 63% of high school students had access to a personal financial course, according to Next Gen. In Philadelphia, however, the share appears to be smaller.

Of 68 city high schools surveyed in 2021-22, 14 said they offered a personal finance class, said Kerry Woodward, executive director of Philadelphia Financial Scholars, a nonprofit aimed at expanding financial literacy education.

Students are being sent out into the world with “potentially no safety net,” facing financial decisions that can benefit or harm them for years to come, Woodward said.

To address that gap, Philadelphia Financial Scholars offers free curriculum, lesson plans, and professional development to schools implementing personal finance courses. The group is currently working with 28 schools, including Mastery-Pickett, where seniors now take personal finance three days a week.

The Germantown charter has been teaching personal finance for years, providing it as a companion to instruction other days of the week about applying to colleges and other postsecondary options. But this is the first year the school has used programming and training provided through Philadelphia Financial Scholars.

The course, taught by Sante, has covered topics such as budgeting and banking — including, for instance, the reasons to have a bank account, rather than just CashApp. (Among them: protecting their money and earning interest, said Sante, a former history teacher.) Still ahead is a project about buying a car, tasking students with evaluating different options and learning about loans and interest.

The class has garnered high levels of student engagement, said principal Margaux Munnelly. She observed a recent lesson, when during a discussion about restrictions on people younger than 21 having credit cards, students objected, saying card applicants should instead be required to take a class like that at Pickett.

“They were so passionate,” Munnelly said. “They were immediately connecting that this course puts them on a stronger path for their own personal finances moving forward.”

She said it “makes a ton of sense” to mandate personal finance education, but how it’s put into practice matters. In addition to quality curriculum and professional development, Munnelly said, “ideally, showing schools additional funding” would help ensure a successful rollout.