An Open Letter to the Senate Education Committee

Mr. Chair and Members of the Senate Education Committee:

Yesterday, members of the University of Denver Roosevelt Institute attended your committee session and testified in support of SB 16-045, concerning adding student loan debt and retirement planning to state financial literacy standards. Thank you for listening to our Vice President, Kieran Doyle, and two of our fellows, Hope Bryer and Johnnie Dina, as well as the many other community members and students we rallied to attend the hearing.

A few issues were raised near the end of the hearing concerning the bill, its necessity, and its legitimacy. I want to take this letter to address those concerns and hopefully bring light to the reasons this bill should pass.

First, Sen. Holbert raised the issue of constitutionality, reading Article IX of the Colorado State Constitution. He specifically argued that discretion on the creation and content of curriculum was constitutionally left to individual school boards to determine, given the Constitution reads in Section 15 “…[the] directors [of the local Board of Education] shall have control of instruction in the public schools of their respective districts.” This line of reasoning ignores that a previous bill, HB 08-1168, has already passed, which required the State Board on Education to draft financial literacy standards the school boards across the state should follow. SB 16-045 slightly amends these standards to include relevant knowledge about student loan debt and retirement planning.

Here's the main point: while Sen. Holbert and other members of this committee may have reservations about the state's use of power in determining curriculum requirements (something I personally sympathize with), that issue is outside of the scope of this bill. If a larger piece of legislation needs to be introduced and deliberated about the state's control and requirements of education, so be it; that is not the focus of this bill. This bill simply assures that the standards already in place are pertinent to the issues that students are currently facing, namely student loan debt. While these standards are in place, is it not the duty of the legislature to make sure that the laws and requirements for education are pertinent to the people they represent? It seems poor practice for this committee to ignore the pressing issue of student loan debt and to leave the education about student loan applications and the ramifications of debt up to chance, as there is no guarantee students will obtain the right or relevant knowledge from their families – something a majority of the testimonies you heard yesterday evinced.

Second, Sen. Woods raised a question of the bill's effectiveness in implementation, citing some examples from testimony that alluded to the failings of the adoption of the curriculum mandated by the State Board of Education. As a student who went through the public high school system in Colorado, I can testify that some standards issued by the State Board of Education on financial literacy are not taught to their fullest extent.

Equally so, there are failings of the justice system in finding all that commit crimes and rendering punishment as such. And failings of our environmental agencies in conserving certain areas of our state protected by law. And failings of our education system in simply teaching requirements even issued by the local board of education. My point is that there will always be failings in implementation; it should not be used an excuse not to pass a law. Instead, this committee should consider what should be taught in schools and student loan debt and retirement planning must be among them.

Third, a couple Senators on this committee thought it might be best for advocates to approach the State Board of Education to include student loan debt in the already established financial literacy standards instead of mandating it through law. If this becomes the norm of changing standards, what purpose does the legislative body serve? Is it now the legislative body’s sole duty to establish executive agencies who have free reign over their domain with no check in power because the legislative body refuses to tell it what to do or not do? That’s a dangerous precedent to establish. This committee has a duty to tell the agencies what to do or not do; otherwise, the executive branch has unlimited to power to regulate.

Finally, I would like to address what this bill actually does. This bill requires that the resource bank on financial literacy now includes information on student loan debt. This bill requires that the State Board of Education includes information about student loans, interest and debt limits, repaying student loans, and career information in their already established financial literacy standards. These standards, like the previous standards established in HB 08-1168, are adopted in ways as the local school district sees fit: this may mean in math classes, or economics classes, or social studies classes. It’s highly flexible. Truly, this bill is extremely simple: it merely amends current standards to be relevant to current issues.

With these points in mind, I can find no faults with this bill and I encourage all members of this committee to vote “aye” on SB 16-045.


Best regards,

Morgan Smith


Roosevelt @ DU