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Bible quotes in Dave Ramsey's textbook don't break the law, says hearing officer

A woman in a navy blue top stands at a podium
Kerry Sheridan
Lea Mitchell, director of the Office for Leading and Learning in Pasco County Schools, was among those who spoke on the district's behalf at the Oct. 10 hearing

No laws were violated, and Pasco County should proceed with adopting the textbook, said the lawyer assigned to hear both sides.

Bible quotes in a textbook by money guru Dave Ramsey don’t break any laws, and the Pasco County school district should proceed with the adoption of the conservative talk radio host’s textbook, said a hearing officer’s recommendation released Monday.

Dozens of people had objected to the adoption of Ramsey’s Foundations in Personal Finance, fourth edition in Pasco County, saying it leaned heavily on the personal views of the conservative evangelical media mogul, lacked rigor, and made numerous religious references.

Five of the 57 objectors appeared at a hearing Oct. 10 to describe their concerns.

But they did not show that the school district violated any laws, said the findings from Pinellas County lawyer James A. Robinson, who was chosen to be an impartial hearing officer in the matter.

Four people stand in the audience at a hearing, while a district official is seated
Kerry Sheridan
Four of the 57 people who objected to the Ramsey textbook are pictured standing at the Oct. 10 hearing. Pasco assistant superintendent Vanessa Hilton is seated.

His five-page 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.

Robinson also 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.

“These citations contain maxims and adages on the topic of personal finance, debt and thrift, and reflect truths generally accepted in the culture,” said Robinson’s recommendation.

“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.”

Finance guru Dave Ramsey wears a black blazer and jeans and talks on a stage in front of a wood paneled background
Videos by finance guru Dave Ramsey, who talk on stage about why debt is bad, appear in the online curriculum for the Ramsey textbook.

Robinson’s decision is dated Oct. 16 and was sent to WUSF by a district spokesman Oct. 23.

"The petitions and evidence presented to the hearing officer by petitioners do not demonstrate that the instructional material in questions fails to meet one or more of the criteria for objection set forth in F.S. 1006.31 (2) or 1006.40 (3)c and Policy 2520."

Jessica Wright, a former teacher and Pasco County parent who was among those who objected to the textbook, said according to Florida Statute 1006.31, “only those instructional materials aligned with state standards” should be recommended for use. 

The Florida Department of Education has not yet released the specific standards for a new and more rigorous half-credit course in financial literacy.

That course is already being taught, however, and is now a requirement for graduation for those entering high school this school year, on the heels of a law signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis in 2022.

The Florida Department of Education moved Ramsey’s textbook to a list of approved materials for high school financial literacy this year, and the district argued it was following procedures in adopting the textbook.

A spreadsheet with red, yellow and green highlights shows how many votes for "meet," does not meet" or "partially meets" for Ramsey and Goodheart--Willcox.
Documents obtained from Pasco County Schools
A spreadsheet depicts how reviewers graded Ramsey and Goodheart Willcox for meeting, partially meeting, or not meeting standards.

Wright also obtained public records that showed textbook reviewers had plenty of concerns about the Ramsey textbook, saying it didn’t meet or only partially met criteria, and that a competing textbook by publisher Goodheart-Willcox was rated more positively.

Pasco County is poised to pay $575,000 for use of the Ramsey textbook, according to the district.

"There are other solutions that would be less money and provide an actual impact for teachers and students," Wright said after learning of the decision.

"The core of the problem with education right now is that we are making political decisions to benefit the pockets of people who aren't actually interested in quality education," she added.

Other objections to the textbook included how Ramsey described debt as “dumb,” and a “sin,” and referred to those in debt as “broke.”

Even though the Ramsey textbook is not specifically approved for the new, graduation required half-credit course in Florida - no textbook yet is - it will likely be used in those classes soon.

The Pasco school district will issue its final decision at its next school board meeting, on Nov. 7.

I cover health and K-12 education – two topics that have overlapped a lot since the pandemic began.