Alumni Spotlight – Nevada delegate creates legislation for financial literacy education

In the Nevada Senate Chambers, Evan Gong (left) stands with  Nevada State Senator Joyce Woodhouse and Kyle Walker, another member of the Nevada Youth Legislature involved in the legislation.

Recent alum Evan Gong (NV-2015) brought his Washington Week experience directly into the real world political arena. He crafted legislation designed to improve financial literacy education in his state and recently had his bill pass the Nevada State Senate and become law. Read on to learn what motivated Evan and the lessons he learned rolling his up his sleeves to bring his idea to fruition.

USSYP: How did you become interested in financial literacy for youth?

Evan: I’ve always been interested in business-related topics from an early age. However, I was particularly inspired to elevate the issue after completing an internship with a financial advisor. During the course of my internship, I encountered people who had no idea about what they needed to do in order to achieve their financial goals and others who were struggling with debt. I realized that this illustrated a broader, insidious problem – money is all too often a shunned topic and many people are not taught the tools to build a healthy financial lifestyle.

I was fortunate to be able to address the issue as a member of the Nevada Youth Legislature, a unique civics program in our state that allows young people to propose real legislation and gives them direct access to elected officials. I brought the issue to my state senator, Joyce Woodhouse, and she enthusiastically offered to sponsor the idea as a bill and graciously included me in the entire process.

USSYP: How did you build a coalition for your legislation?

Evan: During the process of extensively researching the issue, weighing policy recommendations and garnering support for the bill, I reached out to several key stakeholders, including the Nevada Bankers’ Association, the Clark County School District, the Nevada Department of Education and the Nevada Council on Economic Education. These initial stakeholders were instrumental to recruiting other supporters and testifying in support of the bill.

USSYP: How did the original iteration of the bill differ from how it came out of Committee? 

Evan: We made several amendments to the bill over the past three years. When we first introduced it in 2014, we proposed to integrate financial literacy into the mathematics standards. However, upon consultation with various stakeholders, we found that it was more prudent to enable the education officials to determine best placement. Other extraneous political factors also complicated the passage and the bill failed in 2015. However, Senator Woodhouse re-sponsored the bill in the next legislative session, expanding age-appropriate financial literacy curriculum to students in elementary school, adding economics as a required subject, and including an appropriation. Governor Brian Sandoval signed the bill, Senate Bill 249, on June 8, 2017!

USSYP: Will the proposal be both authorized and funded now that it has been enacted?

Evan: Yes, there is a $1.5 million appropriation to enable purchase of curriculum materials and enhance teacher training.

USSYP: What are the key lessons you learned during this process?

Evan: I was naturally disappointed when the bill did not make it out of the Senate in 2015. But in such a political environment, this can often occur. However, the important factor was that we did not give up. We proposed a much more solid version two years later, adding in funding and expanding the scope of personal finance. In the interim, I was able to consult more stakeholders, resulting in more input, and more support.

Senator Woodhouse and Evan Gong after having presented the bill before the Nevada Youth Legislature

USSYP: Have there been supporters or mentors who have helped you along the way?

Evan: I am extremely grateful to retired Senator Valerie Wiener, who founded the Nevada Youth Legislature, for her sage mentorship. She served three terms as a legislator and was integral to helping me formulate the idea to bring to Senator Joyce Woodhouse. I am also thankful to Senator Woodhouse for her sponsorship of the bill and unwavering support, Ray Specht of the Nevada Bankers’ Association for his dedication in lobbying and building a coalition for the bill, and Chris Nolan of the Nevada Council on Economic Education for his important input. Special thanks as well to officials at the Clark County School District and Nevada Department of Education.

USSYP: Did your USSYP experience impact your decision to pursue this work?

Evan: Although I started this project before attending USSYP, my experience during Washington Week solidified my desire to pursue a path in public service and encouraged me to press on with my work on the bill, despite the initial failure in 2015.

USSYP: What is the most gratifying aspect of having this bill passed?

Evan: I think the most gratifying and humbling feeling of the whole experience is knowing that my work will have a significant impact on my community and state for years to come. If this policy can help just one person avoid the vicious spiral of debt or inspire a young person to invest in a Roth IRA, I’d consider the time and effort completely worthwhile.