Bill seeks to alter method state uses to fund schools


Sen. Don Coram

The Colorado Senate approved a bill Monday that would create a media literacy resource center, one that Republicans say has the potential to be biased against certain ideas.

Supporters of the bill, including one of its sponsors, Montrose GOP Sen. Don Coram, say the whole point behind the bill is to teach the next generation how to understand the difference between what is factual and what is intended to deceive.

Opponents, however, say it has too much potential to bar one point of view and advance another.

“Government shouldn’t be in the business of deciding what speech is permitted and what speech shouldn’t be,” said Senate Minority Leader Chris Holbert, R-Parker.

“This bill sets itself up to be the arbiter of truth, and truth is something that we should all seek from every source we possibly can,” said Sen. Paul Lundeen, R-Monument. “This bill sets itself up to be something the state should never do, and that is to seek the position of arbiter of truth.”

But Coram said that’s happening right now with social media and the internet, which he said is partly guided by money- or politics-driven algorithms established by telecommunication companies and the personal and political opinions of their executives.

He said people need to be aware of that and wary of what they hear and read online so they can better determine for themselves what information is believable and what should be rejected.

“It’s concerning to me that we are in a nation that one group can get their message out, and the other one cannot,” Coram said. “If we do not teach our children critical thinking, the problem gets worse. I don’t see this as a government shutdown. The bill says that the goal is to educate, teach critical thinking without indoctrination.”

Another sponsor of the bill, Sen. Brittany Pettersen, D-Lakewood, said nothing in the bill requires schools to do anything. It only would provide resources needed to help teachers show students how to learn the difference between what is based on facts and what is meant to persuade, such as sourced-based news articles as opposed to opinions in newspaper editorials or by talking heads on cable channels.

Pettersen said any media-literacy curriculum offered by schools still would include letting students decide for themselves what to believe.

“This is not about controlling information, this is about making sure that people are thinking critically when they do see that headline, when they actually look at where those news sources are coming from, or if there are any sources at all,” she said.

“When I think about how the world is changing, I look at my dad,” Pettersen added. “He believes anything that comes in an email because it must be real. It’s on the internet. My dad is one of the people who actually believes in QAnon. He lacks being taught those critical thinking skills in a changing time.”

Pettersen said social media has been weaponized, and is being used by unscrupulous foreign nations in an effort to destabilize other nations, and not just in the United States.

Under the bill, a media literacy advisory board would recommend what’s included in the resource center, and the Colorado Department of Education is to set rules for how the public can petition for something to be included or excluded from it.

The bill also calls on the department to provide technical assistance in helping establish media literacy standards and best practices in their curricula, but only to those schools or districts that ask for it.

The measure was approved 22-12, with only two Republicans, Coram and Sen. Kevin Priola of Henderson joining Democrats in support.

It heads back to the Colorado House, which previously approved it in March on a party-line 41-23 vote, for final approval before it can head to Gov. Jared Polis’ desk.