Get More Smarter on Friday (Feb. 20)

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The Colorado Pols Quadruple Doppler (with cheese) predicts anywhere from 2 inches to 17 feet of snow this weekend. It's time to Get More Smarter with Colorado Pols. If you think we missed something important, please include the link in the comments below (here's a good example).


TOP OF MIND TODAY…

► The Denver Post editorial board thinks that Colorado Republican legislators are playing "a dangerous game that must stop" by using the budget process in an attempt to derail legislation they don't like but don't have the votes to defeat outright:

Republicans should keep in mind that history has a way of turning the tables, particularly when it comes to political power.

The tactics they are using to thwart policies they disagree with could well come back to haunt them.

Jefferson County students are not convinced that the conservative school board is really retreating on their attempts at rewriting history curriculums.

Get even more smarter after the jump…

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Jeffco School Board Revises Own History, Drops Plans for AP Course Review

Julie Williams of the Jefferson County School Board.

Julie Williams of the Jefferson County School Board.

Well, that sure took them long enough. Perhaps Julie Williams and the rest of the conservative Jeffco School Board finally got around to reading those History textbooks after all. From TPM:

Get More Smarter on Wednesday (Feb. 18)

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TOP OF MIND TODAY…

► Republicans in the State Senate gave initial approval to Sen. Vicki "Lost" Marble's bill (SB15-032) to eliminate the permitting process for anyone who wants to carry a concealed weapon. Said Sen. Lucia Guzman (D-Denver), "The permitting process allows us to know that Coloradans carrying loaded firearms have shot a gun before, are trained, aren’t domestic violence offenders, don’t have a criminal record, or aren’t drunk drivers." Colorado is currently one of 46 states that require a permit for concealed carry.  

► Former Sen. Mark Udall will see work on one of his pet issues finally come to fruition this week. President Obama plans to designate Brown's Canyon as a National Monument.

Get even more smarter after the jump…

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Hijacking “Erin’s Law”–What’s Going On Here?

WEDNESDAY UPDATE #2: FOX 31's Eli Stokols:

After a couple weeks of speculation that Republicans, who control the committee, were considering an amendment that would have rolled back the comprehensive sex education program Democrats enacted last year — effectively daring Democrats to vote against their own bill aimed at helping victims of child sexual abuse in order to preserve sex ed — the committee took up the bill again on Wednesday.

After one amendment, drafted by Sen. Laura Woods, R-Arvada, along with the bill sponsor, Sen. Linda Newell, D-Littleton, the committee quickly voted S.B. 20 on to the Senate Judiciary Committee on a unanimous vote.

“I thought we were going to have my bill hijacked,” said Newell, who fought back tears as she expressed her relief after the vote. “It’s a great day for victims and survivors of child sexual abuse.” [Pols emphasis]

Newell also thanked Republicans for allowing the bill to move forward without any “poison pill” amendments.

—–

WEDNESDAY UPDATE: Anticlimactic end today–Republicans reportedly abandon attempt to "hijack" Erin's Law, the bill passes to Senate Judiciary unamended. Says one Gold Dome source:

The public shaming worked.

We've heard from two sources now that Sen. Owen Hill, chair of the Education Committee, is the one who decided to pull the plug on this attempted hijacking. There is some question as to when he made this decision, but two weeks ago, he was clearly on board with delaying the bill to entertain Laura Woods' amendment. It's possible that the full story of this little controversy will entitle Sen. Hill to a thanking and a spanking? We'll update as we learn more. Original post follows.

—–

From top: Sens. Owen Hill, Vicki Marble, Tim Neville, Laura Woods, Chris Holbert.

From top: Sens. Owen Hill, Vicki Marble, Tim Neville, Laura Woods, Chris Holbert.

On January 29th, the Republican-controlled Senate Education Committee heard testimony on a bill known as "Erin's Law." Senate Bill 15-020, sponsored by Democratic Sen. Linda Newell and Rep. Beth McCann, would create new educational materials to raise awareness about childhood sexual assault. A press release from the Colorado Coalition Against Sexual Assault explains more about this bill's provisions:

The Colorado Coalition Against Sexual Assault (CCASA) urges Coloradans to support the passage of SB 20—Colorado’s Version of Erin’s Law, which is in its first hearing in the Senate Education Committee this Thursday, January 29th. Erin Merryn, for whom the law is named, is a child sexual abuse survivor and activist who has been instrumental in passing similar legislation in 19 other states. Erin’s Law is designed to assist schools with education and response to child sexual abuse.

The key components of the Colorado’s SB 20 include:

1. Requiring the Colorado School Safety Resource Center to hire a new staff member. This person’s specific role will be to provide curricula recommendations and training for school personnel, youth, and parents on child sexual abuse prevention, awareness, and intervention.

2. Encouraging school districts and charter schools to adopt a child sexual abuse prevention plan, which includes comprehensive age-and developmentally-appropriate curricula for kindergarten through 12th grade students on child sexual abuse awareness and prevention.

3. Encouraging school districts and charter schools to provide professional development opportunities for school personnel in preventing, identifying, and responding to child sexual abuse and assault.

On its face, this seems like the kind of legislation that should pass 100-0 in the Colorado General Assembly and be swiftly signed into law by Gov. John Hickenlooper. Integrating awareness about sexual assault into existing sex ed and other education programs seems like an ideal way to combat the problem. In testimony in favor of the bill (see video of Erin Merryn's testimony before Senate Education after the jump), supporters explained how children often don't have the frame of reference to understand that what's being done to them is a crime–and others have no idea who to turn to when they are assaulted. That's why this law has passed uncontroversially in 19 other states.

During the bill's hearing on January 29th, Education Committee Republicans repeatedly made reference to "amendments" they wanted to introduce, and announced their intention to lay Senate Bill 20 over to an unspecified date in the future just as testimony was getting under way. Democratic Sen. Andy Kerr objected to this, calling attention to the many witnesses testifying in favor of the bill who deserved action. Those objections were overruled–and after Sen. Vicki Marble assured those present that they "would not be disappointed" by the unknown amendment in question, the bill was laid over.

Until tomorrow. Erin's Law is back on the Education Committee calendar for Wednesday at 1:30PM. We don't know much about the amendment Republicans are rumored to be dropping tomorrow, but we've heard that it may involve drastic changes to sexual education in the state–changes that have little to do with the intent of Erin's Law. There is a possibility that Republicans will attempt to repeal in whole or part or otherwise compromise the 2013 comprehensive update of sex ed curriculum, which updated a decades old "abstinence centric" model and better accommodated LGBT students.

Bottom line: Education Committee Republicans may be about to twist Erin's Law into something the witnesses who testified in support of Erin's Law would never support. We'll find out tomorrow.

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Get More Smarter on Tuesday (Feb. 10)

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TOP OF MIND TODAY…

The Senate State, Veterans, and Military Affairs Committee will hear testimony today on SB15-091, also known as the "Construction Defects" bill. The legislation sponsored by Sen. Ray Scott (R-Grand Junction) would reduce the statute of limitations for homeowners on construction defects from 8 years to 4 years, because, screw consumers. This bill will not be heard today after all — there was a late calendar change.

► Anti-fracking groups are holding a news conference today outside City Hall in Denver. The groups are pushing Denver Mayor Michael Hancock and the Denver City Council to support a pre-emptive ban on leasing federal land for fracking in the South Platte River watershed in South Park.

Get even more smarter after the jump…

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Sen. Owen Hill, Your Edumacation Committee Chair

State Sen. Owen Hill

State Sen. Owen Hill should probably get more smarter about education policy.

When the Republican members of the Senate Education Committee were first announced back in November, it didn't take a crystal ball to predict the nuttiness that was sure to ensue once the legislature convened in January. After all, we're talking about a single room with chairs reserved for the likes of Senators Tim Neville, Laura Waters Woods, and Vicki "Have You Seen My" Marble.

The young and ambitious State Sen. Owen Hill was tapped to serve as the Chair of the Senate Education Committee, a decision that probably wasn't too difficult for Senate President Bill Cadman when you consider his options. Hill certainly does possess an impressive academic resume, including an undergraduate degree from the United States Air Force Academy and a Ph.D. in Policy Analysis at the Pardee RAND Graduate School in Santa Monica, California, but if early returns are any indication, he doesn't seem to know much about education policy in general.

In his most recent email newsletter to constituents, titled "The Government's Real Cost of Free," Hill makes a strong case for not being the Chair of an Education Committee. Here's what Hill had to say about President Obama's proposal for free tuition for two-year community college students:

Educational success is a bipartisan concern, one that I am eager to lead on and work across the aisle on in Colorado as chair the Senate Education Committee. [sic] We all desire to see our students succeed. What is troubling about Obama’s “free college” proposal and other policies coming out of Washington today is that they assume DC knows best, not individuals, local communities, or the states.

Since entering office in 2008, President Obama has implemented many plans to increase access to higher education. Yet, over the last year, thanks to the federal government’s help – “free and efficient” – student loan debt has  increased by 100 billion dollars.This is what happens when the federal government takes over a problem that is best handled by the states. Is there any reason to believe the same thing won’t happen for community college costs? [Pols emphasis]

Uh, what? Student loans and college costs are "best handled by the states"? How in the hell does Hill propose that states could take over student loan programs?

You don't need to be an expert in education policy to realize that this is obviously completely impractical on a broader scale. Colorado, for instance, has a very small student loan program that is funded almost entirely by grants. There isn't much room for anything else given the massive cuts to higher education funding over the last decade in Colorado. Hill also doesn't seem to really understand President Obama's college funding plan in general; instead of guaranteeing loans made by private vendors, Obama's plan would reduce costs by removing the middle man and making the government the lender.

Hill doesn't offer any sort of alternative idea before pounding the gavel about how higher education is not "the only avenue to prosperity" in America. This is a fair point (albeit one that has nothing to do with the original argument), but in order to support his statement, Hill provides a link to a story that actually has the exact opposite effect:

Instead of demanding a one-size-fits-all pathway for young adults to realize their career goals – as the President seems to be doing – we should be embracing the creativity of individual Americans to build our own success. 

This creativity is something I fight for every day in our State Senate, and I hope we can continue thinking about it together. Here is an article from the Wall Street Journal that has recently challenged my own thinking about education, and encouraged me as I see the ability of individuals to work hard and create success: The $140,000 a year welding job.  I'd love to hear your thoughts as well! 

Welding Story

Next time, Senator Hill, we suggest you read the article that is supposed to back up your argument.

The Wall St. Journal article that Hill points toward is behind a paywall, but here's the same story republished at Yahoo! Finance. Note the headline and subhead (image at right):

Justin Friend’s parents have doctoral degrees and have worked as university lecturers and researchers. So Mr. Friend might have been expected to head for a university after graduating from high school in Bryan, Texas, five years ago.

Instead, he attended Texas State Technical College in Waco, and received a two-year degree in welding. In 2013, his first full year as a welder, his income was about $130,000, more than triple the average annual wages for welders in the U.S. In 2014, Mr. Friend’s income rose to about $140,000. [Pols emphasis]

As it turns out, the guy making six figures a year in a welding job learned his trade…by attending community college.

Whoops! Ladies and gentlemen, your Senate Education Committee Chaiman, Owen Hill!

Get More Smarter on Monday (Feb. 9)

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GET READY FOR THIS…

► Senator Laura Waters Woods (R-Arvada) presents SB15-069 in the Senate Business, Labor, and Technology committee today. Also known as the "Right to Discriminate" bill, SB-069 would repeal some basic protections for workers in companies with fewer than 15 employees, allowing employers to discriminate based on sex, race, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, and disability…and pretty much anything else you can think of.

► Let's get fracking! Several pieces of legislation focused on fracking are expected to be discussed this week.

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“Parent’s Bill of Rights” Descends Into Anti-Vaccine Madness

Measles.

Measles.

FOX 31's Eli Stokols reports on the debate yesterday over Senate Bill 15-077, the so-called "Parent's Bill of Rights" legislation that would, among other provisions, reaffirm existing parental rights in Colorado to not vaccinate one's children. As we discussed early this week, Colorado's existing law on this subject is already controverisally lax, allowing parents to opt out of vaccinations with no real justification. With outbreaks of diseases like measles and whooping cough being widely publicized, Colorado's 82% childhood vaccination rate, the lowest in the nation, arguably makes this a more urgent question in our state than elsewhere.

For the most part, GOP proponents of this legislation have not led with defending the freedom to not vaccinate children, though prime sponsor Sen. Tim Neville readily admits that is one goal of the bill. Possible 2016 Republican presidential contenders Chris Christie and Rand Paul were both heavily criticized in the aftermath of present measles outbreak in California for making statements that appeared to support "anti-vaxxers"–and in Paul's case, repeating a myth about a connection between vaccines and "mental disorders" that has been thoroughly debunked. Even in Colorado with our somewhat lower rate of vaccinated children, the percentage remains high enough that planting one's flag with the "anti-vaxxers" seems like a grave political risk.

But that appears to be exactly what Colorado Republicans did yesterday.

Propelled by emotional testimony from a group of parents who oppose vaccines as well as some school-based testing and non-academic surveys, legislation seeking to establish a ‘Parent’s Bill of Rights’ passed its first test at the Capitol Thursday…

Colorado progressives, focusing on the hot-button issue of vaccinations, panned the vote.

“News reports this week show that Colorado has the lowest rate of childhood vaccinations in America,” said Amy Runyon-Harms, the executive director of ProgressNow Colorado. “Right-wing politicians like Rand Paul have come under fire for suggesting that vaccines might be responsible for mental health problems in children, even though that theory has been totally discredited by scientific research.”

“Right on cue, extreme conservatives in the Colorado Senate have introduced a bill reaffirming the ‘right’ of parents to not have their children vaccinated. With outbreaks of preventable diseases like measles and whooping cough making nationwide headlines, is there a worse message we could send to Colorado parents?”

The Denver Post's Electra Draper:

Several parents spoke in opposition to school vaccination requirements and programs.

"Parents do not realize how powerless they are," said Debbie Carroll of Littleton…

7NEWS:

The measure…[underscores] current Colorado law that allows parents to opt out of vaccinating their kids for medical, religious or personal beliefs by signing a waiver. 7NEWS asked if the bill would get rid of the waiver process.

"Yes, I mean, I would assume so," Neville said. [Pols emphasis]

Sen. Tim Neville, Rep. Patrick Neville.

Sen. Tim Neville, Rep. Patrick Neville.

Sources at the hearing tell us that, after a measured start that included a great deal of testimony from Colorado PTA and the Colorado Education Association, the Colorado Coalition Against Sexual Assault, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the Interfaith Alliance in opposition to the bill, a long string of witnesses focused almost exclusively on the vaccine issue turned the hearing into a veritable circus of unrefuted, largely discredited pseudoscience. Although a popular speculative subject for lay public "researchers," some of whom showed up to testify yesterday, numerous peer-reviewed studies have shown no link between autism and vaccinations.

There is a percentage of Americans, of course, who place no higher value on peer-reviewed scientific research than anything else they read. With an issue like vaccinations, as opposed to, say, climate change, the consequences of the ignorance/paranoia/whatever motivating a relatively small number of people to avoid vaccinations for their children may not take generations to appear. Perhaps it will be your next trip to Disneyland. Or when a kid on your block comes down with whooping cough.

When that happens, as AP's Nicholas Riccardi reports, voters will know who to blame:

As vaccine skeptics fight laws that would force more parents to inoculate their kids, they are finding unexpected allies in conservative Republicans…

"This boils down to, does the government force everyone to conform or do we empower everyone to make decisions on their own?" said Colorado state Sen. Kevin Lundberg, a Republican who did not fully vaccinate his children and led the fight against last year's bill. [Pols emphasis]

During yesterday's hearing, Senate Education Committee chair Sen. Owen Hill reportedly admitted that all of his children have "different levels of vaccine" because of his family's uncertainty over vaccination safety. Such highly questionable personal decisionmaking puts these lawmakers on the opposite side of the overwhelming majority of Colorado parents who have opted to vaccinate their kids. And public health experts across America. And the peer-reviewed science. At the same moment this issue is making national headlines.

If there's a scenario in which this does not end in political disaster, we'd like to hear it. Because we foresee some very potent ads being made against this legislation, and everyone who supports it.

Bad Bill, Worse Timing

Measles.

Measles.

FOX 31's Eli Stokols reports on a bill up for debate tomorrow in the GOP-held Colorado Senate, either timely or most unfortunately timed given related headlines this week:

Federal data Tuesday showing Colorado kindergartners having the lowest immunization rate in the country would seem to illustrate that parents here already have the option of not vaccinating their children against certain diseases.

But this week, just as a politically fraught debate over vaccinations is dominating the conversation between 2016 GOP presidential hopefuls, Colorado lawmakers will debate legislation that would underline the rights parents already possess to opt out of immunizations as well as comprehensive sex education in schools…

“As a parent, I probably know best  for my children,” [Sen. Tim Neville] said. “I already have the responsibilty under law, I should make sure I have the right to make their decisions for their education, their moral upbringing and also to keep them safe with the medical decisions being made.”

Sen. Tim Neville.

Sen. Tim Neville.

CBS4's report last night: "When it comes to vaccines, Republicans couldn't have picked a worse time to make this a political debate."

Many blame the expanding measles outbreak on the increased number of families choosing not to vaccinate their children. Now there may be a bill to support those parents who are against vaccines.

Parents can already opt out of state mandated vaccines for their children, but State Sen. Tim Neville, a Republican, wanted to make it clear in a bill already drawing sharp fire.

“Are vaccines important? Vaccines are important to people, sure, we’ve had vaccines for many things, but it should be up to the parents,” Neville said. [Pols emphasis]

Colorado's low rate of vaccinations is a direct consequence of the state's relatively easy process for opting children out of "mandatory" vaccinations. For a number of years, the growing incidence of children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) was linked to vaccines, which increased the number of parents choosing to opt out their kids. But recently, outbreaks of preventable diseases–most recently measles, but in Colorado we've also seen a spike in cases of whooping cough–are making the choice to not vaccinate one's children increasingly controversial. In addition, the study linking autism vaccination was thoroughly discredited in 2011, and its author has in fact lost his license to practice medicine.

In the last few days, Republican presidential hopefuls Chris Christie and Rand Paul have been heavily criticized after making comments about vaccination that raise questions about their fitness to preside over public health issues. Sen. Paul in particular repeated the same myth about "mental disorders" and vaccinations that was discredited years ago. Christie didn't offer up any bogus "facts" like Paul, but he did say that parents need "some measure of choice" in the decision to vaccinate children. And with a disease that the CDC had declared eradicated fifteen years ago cropping up around the country again, these were not considered good answers from anyone with presidential aspirations.

And yes, folks–it's a really bad time for Colorado Republicans to grandstand on the right of parents to not have their kids vaccinated. This bill doesn't change what is already a controversially lax vaccination policy in Colorado, but it does brand the campaign to uphold that "right" as a Republican platform plank.

All told, that could cost Republicans many more votes than it wins.

Lundberg Strikes Again: Pedophile Day Care, Anyone?

Sen. Kevin Lundberg (R).

Sen. Kevin Lundberg (R).

The Denver Post's Christopher Osher reports on the latest bill up for debate from hard-right Republican Sen. Kevin Lundberg–and it's a doozy:

"We are licensing child care out of existence in far too many corners of the state," said Lundberg, who also is chairman of the Senate's Health and Human Services Committee, which will consider the legislation. "My alternative says there is an elegant solution to this bureaucratic problem, and it recognizes that smaller facilities are much better served when we stay out of the way and stop driving people out of business."

But child welfare advocates say Colorado's licensing program isn't driving providers out of business. They say costs for providers are minimal — between $63.50 to $154.50 for an initial application and criminal background checks per home. They also fear Lundberg's move could run afoul of recent federal legislation and jeopardize federal aid the state receives for child care vouchers that go to low-income parents who are working or enrolled in job training or school.
 
They believe the state's licensing program saves lives by setting uniform safety standards and requiring criminal background checks for providers and those living in their homes. [Pols emphasis] They also point out that licensed providers must take 16.5 hours of training before opening and must take an additional 15 hours annually to keep licenses current. Child care operators say the cost of all the courses is less than $150.

Given the low cost of compliance with the licensing requirements as they exist today, it's tough to argue that this is a major contributor to the high cost of child care in Colorado. On the other hand, the peace of mind of leaving one's children with a care provider who has passed a criminal background check in order to receive a child care license has a very high value indeed.

Once you accept that a $150 license and a modest bit of education is not meaningfully driving up the cost of child care, there really is no good reason for this proposal at all. To be honest, the reason to push this bill completely escapes us, because its stated justification is so easily disproven it calls the true motives for the bill into question. Is the point really to make it easier for criminals to run child care centers?

As silly as that sounds, Sen. Lundberg's response to the question honestly makes you wonder:

"Parents are the ones that need to know that they're the actual stopgap that protects children when they drop them off anywhere," Lundberg said. "They better make sure just who they are leaving their children with." [Pols emphasis]

And how are parents supposed to do that? Maybe with–wait for it–a background check? Like the one you have to pass to get a child care license? Even when you disagree with a legislative proposal, it's usually possible to see how the rationale behind said proposal could make some kind of sense to a reasonable person–maybe not you, but some number of people depending on their point of view.

But not this time. This is just an irredeemably bad idea–and for a Republican caucus that grandstanded mandatory sentences for sex offenders, and constantly represents itself as "tough on crime" at the expense of Democrats, the introduction of such a counterproductive bill makes no sense.

Have We Mentioned That Kent Lambert Doesn’t Like Immigrants?

Sen. Kent Lambert using night vision scope on the Mexican border.

Sen. Kent Lambert using night vision scope to “patrol” the Mexican border.

The Colorado Statesman's Marianne Goodland reports on a bill sponsored by Sen. Kent Lambert of Colorado Springs that's more than meets the eye:

The new chair of the Joint Budget Committee has stirred up a bit of a hornet’s nest with a bill that would radically change the mission and admission standards for Metropolitan State University of Denver. And it’s not a change that they sought.

Sen. Kent Lambert, R-Colorado Springs, is the prime sponsor of Senate Bill 15-072, which would change Metro’s admissions standards from “modified open” to “moderately selective.”

The state has five standards for granting admissions to its public colleges and universities. Metro currently falls under “modified open,” which means any applicant age 20 or older can be admitted with a high school diploma or GED. Those under 20 must meet additional criteria. Metro is the only higher education institution in the state with modified open standards…

As of press time, Metro officials and Lambert had not yet met about the bill.

MetroStateLogoWeb-304

Kind of strange, don't you think? Why would Sen. Lambert introduce a bill making such a major change to the admissions criteria for one of the state's largest public colleges without even meeting with them?

That's simple enough–Metro State does not support the bill.

Metro spokesperson Cathy Lucas said that Metro was not looking to change to their admissions standards. Initial data from the university shows that about 1,200 students would be affected by the admissions change. That would include 432 students of color…

Metro State serves a key role in Colorado's range of public higher education offerings as what's known as a "college of opportunity"–a chance for returning adult and otherwise "nontraditional students" to obtain a full four-year college degree without the same high admission standards prevalent at most four-year schools. As a consequence, Metro State has a lower graduation rate than many other four-year schools, but that is considered acceptable in pursuit of the school's mission of making a full college education available to everyone.

So why would Lambert want to change Metro State's "college of opportunity" model? As we discussed last week, Lambert is one of the Colorado legislature's most strident anti-immigrant lawmakers. Lambert has taken "fact finding trips" to the Arizona border to meet with anti-immigration extremists like border militiaman Chris Simcox, and ex-Arizona Sen. Russell Pearce of SB-1070 infamy. Metro State was a major advocate of the ASSET legislation passed in 2013 allowing undocumented students who graduate from Colorado high schools to attend college with affordable tuition, and the largest share of ASSET students are students of Metro State. As you can imagine, this did not make Lambert a very happy anti-immigrant lawmaker.

And basically, Kent Lambert is now looking to screw with Metro State. It's important to know this backstory, lest anyone think Lambert's bill is some kind of altruistic pursuit of better educational standards. Be assured, its not.

Senate GOP Kills College Tuition Cap Bill

Student life.

Student life.

Via AP and the Fort Collins Coloradoan, a priority from Gov. John Hickenlooper's State of the State address dies at the hands of the GOP-controlled Senate Education Committee:

The Senate Education Committee considered a Democratic bill to extend the current 6 percent hike cap indefinitely. The proposal was part of the Democrats' broader agenda this year to rein in costs for the middle class.

For some students at Colorado State University on Thursday, the proposal sounded like a sound idea.

"Making sure (tuition hikes aren't) ludicrous, like a 20 percent jump? I'm for that," junior health and exercise science major Philip Ephraim said.

The 2011-12 school year saw a 20 percent jump for in-state students over the previous year. Tuition had increased by 9 percent annually for the years before and after that year, according to CSU. The Legislature passed the tuition cap last year, but it was not permanent…

Laura Waters Woods.

Laura Waters Woods.

Of course, the 6% tuition cap bill that died yesterday was only "permanent" for as long as the General Assembly wanted it to be. Any such statute can be changed at any time. But in Hickenlooper's State of the State address, he called for tuition at Colorado state schools to increase by no more than 6%, in an effort to control the growth in the cost of higher education. Which, if you haven't heard, has been a big problem in recent years (see above).

But by fewer than 700 votes in suburban Arvada, Republicans are in charge of the Colorado Senate. Sen. Laura Waters Woods and her hard-right colleagues on the Senate Education Committee are expected to be a major roadblock on education issues for the next two years, and yesterday's action lived up to the predictions.

On Thursday, Education Committee members agreed that Colorado has done a poor job of funding higher education, but the GOP-controlled board voted 5-4 on party lines to reject the measure.

Republicans on the committee pointed out that even the 6 percent cap could mean tuition would double in a couple of decades. They called the cap an arbitrary limit on the institutions and an example of "micromanaging" the schools…

It's called gridlock, folks, and it's what's on tap in the Colorado Senate through 2016. The only thing we can tell you, and the student body of Colorado State University, is everybody had better get used to it.

And elections matter. We'll say that again too.

Jeffco Residents Demand School Board Majority’s Resignation

Ken Witt, John Newkirk, Julie Williams (WNW).

Ken Witt, John Newkirk, Julie Williams (WNW).

Gabrielle Porter of the Canyon Courier reports:

A petition signed by 6,554 Jeffco residents calling for school board President Ken Witt and board members John Newkirk and Julie Williams to resign caused a stir at the board’s meeting on Thursday evening.

Jeffco parent and petition organizer Molly Snyder told board members she is not affiliated with the teachers union, the Jefferson County Education Association. 

When Snyder presented the box of petitions during the meeting’s public comment segment, she alleged that the board’s conservative majority had broken public trust, wasted district money, violated the state’s open-meetings law, and misrepresented district schools and students in public discussions.

After last year's explosive battle over the conservative Jefferson County school board majority's politically stilted "review" of the district's AP history curriculum, there's been a bit of a lull in the action as the students, parents, and teachers involved regrouped. We've heard that, among other things, the photo taken by the Jefferson County Education Association's spokesman of board president Ken Witt with a group of fellow right wing school board presidents we posted last week has helped fire up the opposition again–a reminder that what is happening in Jefferson County is part of a larger agenda playing out in school districts across the state.

With that said, it will take more than a petition to dislodge Witt and fellow conservative board members John Newkirk and Julie Williams:

Newkirk said he would not step down until student achievement goals were met, and challenged Snyder to ask the petition signers to help meet those goals by volunteering in local schools. 

“When every child and every parent in Jefferson County has their first choice, whether it be in a school, charter school, option school, online school or otherwise — no more waiting lists — when there’s no achievement gap between our minority students and non-minority students, and, finally, when Jeffco becomes the nation’s leader in academic achievement, then I’ll step down, because my work here will be done,” Newkirk said. 

During his speech, nearly half the restive audience — largely made up of people in blue JCEA shirts — stood and turned their backs on the board podium.

What happens next? We don't know exactly–but everything we hear suggests that the conflict between the Jeffco school board's right-wing majority and the politically moderate community they serve is rapidly coming to a head. Stay tuned.

Right-Wing School Board Presidents Caught Talking Shop

A photo taken yesterday by Scott Kwasny, the communications director of the Jefferson County Education Association, captures–apparently by random chance–a lunch meeting between Jefferson County Board of Education President Ken Witt and the conservative presidents of several other school boards across the state at Lakewood's Jose O'Shea's Mexican restaurant:

wittboes

Ken Witt.

Ken Witt.

Witt is the guy hiding his face. We take Kwasny at his word on this, but you can also see Witt's blocky haircut poking out around his binder.

Kwasny identifies the other men in this picture as Kevin Larsen of Douglas County, Bob Kerrigan of the Thompson school district, Mark Clark of Adams 12 Five Star Schools, and Roger Good of Steamboat Springs–all conservative presidents of their respective school boards. According to Kwasny's Facebook post, the subject of discussion was teacher contracts.

To be clear, there's nothing illegal going on here, even though such a meeting raises obvious questions. These men all serve on different school boards, so they would not be subject to Colorado's open meetings law. The biggest problem with this photo is the optics–Ken Witt and the Jefferson County school board's conservative majority regularly insist that they are not coordinating ideological "Dougco-style" reforms to roll out in Jefferson County. He says so even after hiring the district's new superintendent out of Douglas County–but it's a matter of, you know, pretense.

Well folks, so much for that pretense.

Top 10 Stories of 2014: Unfinished Business in Jefferson County (#9)

The Taj.

The Taj.

Jefferson County, Colorado has long been considered a bellwether–for the state of Colorado, and increasingly as a place where national political trends can be seen in action contemporaneous to or before they take hold elsewhere. The result in Jefferson County has predicted the winner in Colorado statewide races for long enough that the rule of "as Jefferson County goes, so goes Colorado" has become axiomatic for politicos in this state.

This year, Republican U.S. Senate candidate Cory Gardner narrowly defied this rule, losing Jefferson County by under 1,000 votes but winning the election statewide. The reasons for this have more to do with dynamics across Colorado that hurt Democrats, a hardening of partisan battle lines that robbed Mark Udall of swing independent and moderate Republican votes other Democrats in recent elections have won over. Looking at Udall's performance compared to Gov. John Hickenlooper, who carried Jefferson County and the state by a much greater margin than Gardner, there's a case to be made that Udall's collapse in September and October was more attributable to Colorado voters rejecting him personally–or at least his campaign's heavy focus on abortion–than Democrats generally.

In Jefferson County, the 2014 elections took place against the backdrop of major unplanned controversy created by a new conservative school board majority. The 2013 election's big story in Colorado was the absolute slaughter at the polls of Amendment 66, an education tax increase. Amendment 66, in turn, turned out conservative voters all over the state, including in Jefferson County where three hard-right conservatives were elected by a landslide to form the new majority on the Jeffco's five-seat school board.

The new Jeffco school immediately set to work on a sweeping, highly politicized agenda of conservative reform proposals. After butting heads with the teacher's union over pay issues, the new board pushed through the hiring of a new superintendent from Douglas County–the same far-right dominated union-busting school district presently mired in court battles over their insistence funding religious schools that the new school board promised would not be their "model" for "reforming" Jefferson County Public Schools.

thursdayprotests

Julie Williams of the Jefferson County School Board.

Julie Williams of the Jefferson County School Board.

In September, the conflict in Jefferson County went national–in fact international–when word surfaced of a proposal from board member Julie Williams to review the district's AP history curriculum to ensure that it "promotes citizenship, patriotism, essentials and benefits of the free enterprise system, respects for authority and respect for individual rights, [does] not encourage or condone civil disorder, social strife or disregard of the law," and presents "positive aspects of the United States and its heritage." Williams is the sister-in-law of Sen.-elect Tim Neville, one of the most conservative incoming (and former) members of the Colorado legislature. With the power of the new majority, some of the fringiest actors in Colorado politics stood ready to impose their wacky will on one of the state's highest-performing public school districts.

As anyone who followed this story knows, thousands of students from across Jefferson County stormed out of class in massive and well-organized demonstrations against Williams' curriculum review proposal. At one point, the protests stretched for 22 miles along Wadsworth Boulevard, Jeffco's busiest surface street. Ultimately a weakened version of the curriculum review proposal was approved by the board without Williams incendiary language, but still one that gives Williams' political allies lots of board-sanctioned ability to make trouble. In the meantime, students and teachers are talking about the daunting logistics of recalling the new board majority, with a newfound understanding of the threat they represent.

So what does this mean for politics in Colorado's "political bellwether" county? It means something, for sure–but the full impact of the battle over public education in Jefferson County was not felt in 2014. This is not to say that Democrats didn't do their damndest to link the antics of the new school board with Republican candidates on the ballot–we documented numerous examples of hard-hitting TV spots and mailers linking Julie Williams to Neville, Laura Waters Woods, Tony Sanchez, Larry Queen, and others. It's likely that those ads made a difference, even if Neville and Waters Woods still won their races. It's clear that the prospect of having these protests turned against Republican candidates in Jeffco frightened GOP strategists at any rate, who responded with mailers intending to co-opt the protesters' message that were so desperate and shameless they left jaws agape.

In the end, 2014 was a year when the midterm political background noise may have helped conceal the long-term damage being done to conservatives in Jefferson County. In the worst electoral climate for Democrats in Colorado in many elections, Democrats actually did pretty well, enough to where Jefferson County if anything looks like less of a bellwether this election. If one bets that 2016 will not be the perfect storm for Democrats that 2014 was, and we believe that's a good bet, then key Jeffco races in 2016, like Sen.-elect Waters Woods in SD-19, would seem to be very ripe for flipping back to Democratic control. As for those thousands of student protesters? Many of them will be voters by 2016, at least some helped along by Colorado's new law allowing 16 year olds to pre-register to vote. Whether or not the conservative school board majority can be recalled is one question–but we expect their actions to ripple negatively for Jeffco Republicans for years to come regardless.

Bottom line: the role of Jefferson County may grow to something more than a bellwether in the coming years. As the state's fourth largest county by population, this is an electorate with enough heft to swing elections in Colorado–and this year, it's a county that (albeit narrowly) bucked the trend. That's not the same thing as a bellwether exactly, but in 2016, Democrats may have reason to celebrate Jeffco's bluer trajectory.