Dave Ramsey book ‘Foundations in Personal Finance’ sparks high school debate

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High schools in Pasco County, Florida, moved one step closer this month to using a Dave Ramsey book in new financial literacy courses after a lawyer hired to sort out conflict over the book’s selection sided with school district officials, according to WUSF, an NPR member station based in Tampa Bay.

James A. Robinson, the lawyer chosen to be an “impartial hearing officer,” determined that using Ramsey’s “Foundations in Personal Finance” in public schools would not break the law, despite its references to Bible verses.

Robinson “noted that the references to the Gospels of Luke and Matthew, and Proverbs, in parts of the Ramsey textbook, appear alongside quotes from Aristotle, Maya Angelou, Thomas Jefferson, Nelson Mandela, and Yogi Berra, among others,” WUSF reported, citing the five-page decision he submitted on Oct. 16.

“Citations to gospels and parables do not amount to religious proselytization. There is no attempt to convert anyone to a particular religious viewpoint. Inclusion of the citations does not violate the Constitution or any other applicable law,” Robinson wrote, noting that the Bible verses reflect financial wisdom that’s “generally accepted in the culture.”

Dave Ramsey books in high schools

The conflict in Pasco County arose after Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, signed a law in March 2022 requiring Florida high school students to take a financial literacy course to be eligible for graduation. Students who entered high school this fall are the first to be subject to the legislation.

“Financial literacy is an important life skill for a student to have,” DeSantis said in a press release when he signed the law. “Ensuring our students have the skills to manage their finances and perhaps one day own a business will pay dividends for our state.”

As the Florida Department of Education sought to determine which textbooks could be used for the newly required course, controversy arose around Ramsey’s “Foundations in Personal Finance,” which was designed for high school students by the conservative Christian radio host’s company.

Although the Ramsey textbook teaches secular financial skills, it includes quotes from the Bible to illustrate the points being made. Among the included Bible passages are quotes from Proverbs 23 and Proverbs 26, according to NPR.

“Foundations in Personal Finance” is also controversial because of how it presents concepts like debt and credit card spending.

“The main idea that runs through this book — there are three points. One, debt is bad. Two, pay cash. And three, if you have debt, you are, quote, ‘dumb,’” said social studies teacher Beverly Ledbetter to NPR.

WUSF noted that the Ramsey book also refers to debt as a “sin.”

Over the objections of people like Ledbetter, Ramsey’s “Foundations in Personal Finance” was included on this year’s list of approved materials for financial literacy courses.

However, the overall debate is not settled, because “the Florida Department of Education has not yet released the specific standards” that will guide a financial literacy course in the future, according to WUSF.

Ramsey’s textbook is already approved for use in financial literacy courses in several states, including Utah, as the Deseret News previously reported.

Dave Ramsey textbook in Pasco County

Amid the uncertainty over Florida’s future financial literacy curriculum, a Pasco County school district moved forward with plans to use Ramsey’s textbook in its high schools.

Several community members, including teachers, objected, which is why Robinson was asked to assess the legality of the school district’s plans.

Robinson’s decision “described the Pasco County school district’s arguments as ‘convincing,’ as they detailed how school officials complied with law and policies in choosing a textbook that was newly listed on the state of Florida Department of Education’s approved list,” WUSF reported.

Now that it has Robinson’s report, the school district is expected to make its final decision on “Foundations in Financial Literacy” at a Nov. 7 school board meeting.

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