Jeffco School Board Media Flacks Doth Protest Too Much

Michelle Balch Lyng, Lisa Pinto.

Michelle Balch Lyng, Lisa Pinto.

We talked last month about a GOP-aligned media relations shop, Novitas Communications, that was hired by the Jefferson County Board of Education’s new communications director Lisa Pinto–herself a longtime Republican political operative. Novitas’ contract to “shift” coverage of the controversial board majority to positive from the more or less unbroken string of disastrous press the district’s conservative majority has earned since taking office is a tall order, but we’ve been watching since this announcement for signs of Novitas and their conservative usual suspect friends swinging into action.

This week, we began to see the conservative media counterstrategy on behalf of the Jeffco school board take shape. Conservative blog Complete Colorado teamed up with the Independence Institute to hit back against the army of critics of the Jeffco school board majority on social media:

Parents, students, and teachers upset with the Jefferson County Public School District Board of Education majority members and select district staff continue to use social media to get their frustrations out.

However, some of those targeted by anonymous Twitter handles call their messages rude, intimidating, unflattering, and just plain mean at times.

And it appears the @notlisapinto, @notjohnnewkirk, @notdanmcminimee, @notkenwitt and @notjuliejeffco accounts are being operated with the blessing of the Colorado teachers union top official and the two top officials for the Jefferson County Parent Teacher Association – despite those organizations touting their goals as student-based and continually denouncing bullying through the #standup4kids Twitter hash tag.

Lisa Pinto, chief communications officer for Jeffco, said the Tweets about her are hurtful and judgmental. Because Pinto is not an elected official, those posting to her site could be held liable for the remarks…

#jeffcoschoolboardhistory

#jeffcoschoolboardhistory

First of all, there’s no question that Twitter has not been very good for the conservative Jefferson County school board majority. Last fall, the board’s proposal to “review” the district’s AP history curriculum to “promote citizenship, patriotism, essentials and benefits of the free enterprise system, and respect for authority” became a worldwide news story largely because of the Twitter hashtag #jeffcoschoolboardhistory–which went viral with literally thousands of satirical Tweets lampooning Julie Williams and the proposal generally. Another Twitter hashtag, #standup4kids, is a major communications hub for opponents attending Jeffco board meetings.

So yeah, the Jeffco school board majority probably aren’t big fans of Twitter.

Hoping to garner sympathy for the board majority and discredit intense criticism on Twitter, the Independence Institute put up a low-quality website aggregating Tweets from some of these pseudonymous accounts. In the Complete Colorado post, there are allegations of racially charged Tweets against Pinto, who is Hispanic, but we haven’t seen that proven–or even clearly alleged which of the many Twitter accounts involved in discussion of the Jeffco school board might be responsible. The examples of “mean Tweets” posted to the Independence Institute’s Mean Girlz site aren’t anything close to that level of offense, and we assume if bonafide examples of racial harassment existed they would be front and center. Certainly anonymous Tweets can be meanspirited, but attempting to discredit real people simply because they “Re-Tweeted” something is asinine. And as for the notion that these accounts are operating “with the blessing” of the PTA or anyone else? Based on the Complete Colorado blog post, that appears to be totally baseless conjecture at best, and possibly downright libelous.

Bottom line: whining about treatment on social media doesn’t make the conservative Jeffco school board majority or their army of paid media flacks look good. Twitter is just one venue in which damaging information about the board majority’s actions flows freely to the public, and overwhelmingly, the content speaks for itself. If the board’s media flacks want to respond, the way to do that is factually–not by complaining about meanie anonymous Twitter trolls and playing silly guilt-by-association games.

Another Contentious Jeffco School Board Meeting Tonight

When you're done trying to pull your hair out, you may look like this.

When you’re done trying to pull your hair out, you may look like this.

The always contentious Jefferson County School Board convenes again tonight to discuss their plan to make major changes to several schools in the Wheat Ridge/Arvada area.

Earlier this week, YourHub reporter Josie Klemaier took a look at the latest controversy regarding the unpredictable school board:

The Jefferson County Public Schools board proposed at its March 5 meeting that Manning, an option school, take over the Everitt Middle School building in Wheat Ridge, which would allow Maple Grove Elementary to expand into Manning’s building at 13200 W. 32nd Ave. Maple Grove is currently at 3085 Alkire St…

…While some members of the board see this as an opportunity to expand the schools’ successful programs, parents and administrators are worried it will muddy the close relationship the Applewood neighborhood has with the two schools.

“Our students would be attending an elementary that is larger than most middle schools and some high schools,” said Ali Lasell, who has two children at Maple Grove and said she and her husband moved to Applewood in part for the schools. “We would have some very serious conversations in my house about whether we will continue in Maple Grove or not.” [Pols emphasis]

Maple Grove Elementary School has long been one of the strongest K-6 schools in Jefferson County. The right-wing Jeffco School Board likes that Maple Grove, so their solution is to just keep adding more and more students to the good school. Brilliant!

The action kicks off tonight at 5:30 pm at the Jefferson County Administration Building.

 

“Anti-Vaxxer Bill of Rights” Gets Euthanized Today

UPDATE: An amusing sidenote via Twitter, as posted by Rep. Patrick Neville, House sponsor of the so-called “Parent’s Bill of Rights.”

“Parent’s deserve rights?” It seems Rep. Neville is exempt too.

—–

Measles.

Measles.

AP via 7NEWS reports, a bill that was never going to pass, and has arguably damaged Republicans in the Colorado General Assembly much more than it ever helped them is set to die this afternoon in a Democratic-controlled House committee:

Democrats are expected Tuesday to kill a Republican bill giving parents broad authority over their children’s school curriculum and medical treatment…

Republican sponsors have called it a needed check on government. The bill passed the Senate last month.

But Democrats control the House and say the measure goes too far. It limits schools from providing non-emergency medical care without a parent’s permission. Democrats say that’s a recipe for hiding child abuse.

Sen. Laura Waters-Woods.

Sen. Laura Waters-Woods.

As opponents testified at every stop during this bill’s trip through the GOP-controlled Colorado Senate, there are a huge number of excellent reasons to oppose the so-called “Parent’s Bill of Rights.” Advocates for children and organizations devoted to fighting child abuse argued that the legislation would make it harder for schools to intervene in abuse cases. Public health experts warned of disastrous consequences for important programs like the Colorado Healthy Kids Survey, an anonymous and already optional questionnaire regarded as critical for making informed decisions about a broad range of issues affecting young people.

But by far the biggest controversy with Senate Bill 15-077, and the one that caught the attention of local and national media, is the bill’s further easing of already-weak regulations in Colorado on the vaccination of school age children. With an epidemic of measles in California making national news, along with ongoing local outbreaks of whooping cough and controversy over Colorado’s last-place rank among the 50 states for vaccination of children, the Senate GOP caucus totally lost control over the optics of this bill–which morphed, despite the protestations of “moderates” like Ellen Roberts, into the “Anti-Vaxxer Bill of Rights.” And the fact is, Roberts and others who voted for this bill have no one to blame but their fellow Republicans, after Sens. Laura Waters Woods and Tim Neville contradicted with their own words Roberts’ insistence that this was “spun by the media” into an anti-vaccination debate.

We expect Roberts will not be overly saddened to see this bill die today despite her vote for it. But for Roberts and all of the Senate Republicans who voted with her, the damage is already done.

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Things You’re Not Supposed To Admit, Chris Holbert Edition

Sen. Chris Holbert (R).

Sen. Chris Holbert (R).

The Denver Post’s Lynn Bartels reported Saturday on the death earlier this month of Senate Bill 15-118, a bill that would have upped the incentive for Colorado middle class families to save for college tuition via the CollegeInvest program:

Senate Bill 118 concerned Coloradans who save for college through a not-for-profit state agency called CollegeInvest, where money is put into what are known as 529 plans.

As amended, the proposal from Merrifield, a Colorado Springs Democrat, would have eliminated the state income tax break for those earning more than $500,000 a year, while doubling it for those making less than $150,000 a year. Coloradans earning between $150,000 and $500,000 would still receive some tax break.

The bill died March 5 on a 3-2 party-line vote in the GOP-controlled Senate Finance Committee, where Sen. Chris Holbert made a statement that stunned Democrats and bill supporters.

We’d say on an objective scale, this was pretty stunning.

“I represent a part of a county that has the sixth-highest income demographic in the nation,” the Parker Republican said. “The people who elected me and who I represent, many are in those upper-income brackets.” [Pols emphasis]

So-called “529” plans like Colorado’s CollegeInvest program enable tax-deferred investments to save for a designated beneficiary’s college education. In Colorado, families can also claim a tax credit against their state income tax for the amount they invest in 529 plans. Under Merrifield’s bill, wealthy 529 plan investors would still benefit from their tax-advantaged status, but wouldn’t qualify for the additional state income tax credit unless their income is under $500,000 per year.

Republicans at every level of government face a significant message setback when trying to justify policies that either disregard the interest of or actively work against the middle class voters who make up the bulk of the electorate. We’ve seen this manifest over and over in the last few years, with phrases like “attacking job creators” and “class warfare” nervously appropriated by Republicans to avoid having to say simple declarative things like “I represent the rich people.”

Politically this is not difficult to understand, since there are simply not enough rich people to form an electoral majority–and even among the Republican rank-and-file, blind fealty to the upper class is breaking down as middle class incomes stagnate while the rich get richer.

That is why this statement we assume Sen. Chris Holbert made without any hesitation is so shocking. Republicans work hard to pigeonhole Democrats as the party that represents the only very poorest Americans–those “other” Americans it’s broadly assumed are “lazy” and “not pulling their weight.” Democrats respond that they have the interests of the middle class at heart–in this case families saving for college–and that Republicans have become the party of only the very rich.

And here you have the deciding vote on a bill to help the middle class candidly admitting it. The political significance of that, even if you’re not surprised, should be very great indeed.

Oh Lordy, Kumbaya

As the Denver Post's Joey Bunch reports, Republicans and Democrats at the state capitol are swaying to the same sappy tune when it comes to developing Colorado's workforce to meet the needs of the future:

Dozens of Colorado legislators from both parties stood together Thursday afternoon at the Capitol to tell the middle class that help is on the way…

The package would give employers financial incentives to take on interns and apprentices and would develop programs that coordinate high schools and colleges with companies willing to help train and eventually employ workers, bill sponsors said…

The industries targeted by the legislators pay well: engineering, research and development, manufacturing, aerospace, bioscience, electronics, energy and natural resources and other skilled trades.

In a separate blog post, Bunch details the workforce development bills introduced so far and on the way. Just about every legislative session features a similar moment of bipartisan camaraderie over a package of mutually inoffensive economic development legislation, but with so many nasty fights swirling on a host of hot-button partisan touchstone issues this year, both parties felt the need to make an extra show of it yesterday. And why not? Especially in a non-election year, voters love to see this and reporters love to write about it.

Yes, folks, that's Democratic Rep. Mike Foote (D) with his arm around Sen. Laura Woods (R). If you're thinking that this doesn't happen very often, you're right.

Enjoy it while it lasts, because the gun magazine limit repeal and Rep. Gordon "Dr. Chaps" Klingenschmitt's "right to discriminate" bills are up for debate Monday! At which time Kumbaya will be over.

Jeffco School Board Snaps Up GOP Media Consultants

Colorado GOP chairman Ryan Call, Jefferson County Communications Officer Lisa Pinto.

Colorado GOP chairman Ryan Call, Jefferson County Communications Officer Lisa Pinto.

We talked just over a month ago about the hiring by Jefferson County Public Schools of one Lisa Pinto, a right-wing Leadership Program of the Rockies graduate and former board member of the embattled Colorado Republican independent expenditure committee, as the new Chief Communications Officer of the district. Pinto appears to have been hired due to her political affiliations, as she was apparently rejected by a number of people involved in the hiring process as unqualified–yet somehow in the end deserving of a higher salary than her more qualified predecessor. We've heard that unflattering information about the process that led to Pinto's hiring by the district may shortly be disclosed, so stay tuned.

In the meantime, Jefferson County School Board Watch reported last month that Pinto is getting some extra reinforcements on the public-relations front, having hired a usual-suspect Republican aligned communications firm Novitas Communications to…well, it seems like they were more or less hired to do Pinto's job:

a) Set measureable objectives against which Novitas and the District Communications
Department efforts can be evaluated. For example, if the mix of media coverage of the district is 50% negative and 50% positive, work toward shifting that percentage to 25% negative and 75% positive.

b) Evaluate objectives’ metrics regularly and help the District Communications Department shift strategies and tactics to keep the department on track to meeting its objectives.

c) Develop strategies to address hot-button or controversial issues to ensure that District constituencies (e.g., parents, teachers, community leaders) are engaged and empowered in District decisions, and to ensure that the District is driving the narrative on these issues.

d) With District staff, develop core messaging for the District as well as on controversial issues that will help ensure spokespersons and staff are unified in their communications to District stakeholders.

e) Develop/enhance a crisis communications plan for rapid response action, as needed…

You know, the stuff Chief Communications Officers are supposed to do!

And here's the "ah-ha" reveal: Novitas Communications is run by Michelle Balch Lyng, a longtime Republican operative and former head of the Denver Republican Party–the same urban Republican social circle as Pinto herself. Lyng's staff includes Devan Crean, the Republican "tracker" who got embarrassingly mixed up in the state GOP chairmanship election battle early last month. You'll recall what Crean said about her work then:

The organization Ellie and I both work for ONLY tracks politicians and policy makers who are left-leaning. We DO NOT track fellow Republicans…

We haven't heard if Ms. Crean still works for Revealing Politics after that little fiasco, but we assume her Republican loyalties remain firmly intact. Given Pinto's background, we expect none of this will trouble her.

The obvious question is, why does the district have a need for so many conservative PR consultants? And that's an easy answer: in addition to having repeatedly stepped into controversy over such things as the conservative school board majority's ill-fated AP history "review" proposal, negotiations with the district's teachers on a new contract are about to get underway. A preliminary meeting just last night began to set the timetable for those negotiations. Following the antics of the Republican school board majority up to this point, fears that they will not enter negotiations with teachers in anything resembling good faith are well-founded. One need only look at Douglas County to see the worst-case scenario.

If these negotiations get ugly, the district's new army of GOP media flacks is going to be very busy indeed.

Partisan Battle Lines Forming Over Parental Leave Bill

parental-leave-bill-2013

A fact sheet from 9 to 5 Colorado summarizes House Bill 15-1221, legislation to renew existing Colorado law allowing parents to take unpaid leave for their childrens' school activities. This legislation passed its first House committee test today on a party-line vote, but faces an uncertain future in the GOP-controlled Colorado Senate:

In 2009, the Colorado State Legislature passed the Parental Involvement for Academic Achievement Act, which allowed many Colorado employees to take leave to attend their children’s school activities. Research has consistently shown that increased parental involvement in the education and schooling of their children correlates with greater academic achievement outcomes. This legislation expires this year and should be permanently extended.
 
What the Current Parental Involvement Policy Does:

•    Allows employees of Colorado businesses to take up to 18 hours of leave per academic year to attend their children’s parent-teacher conferences, special education services, response to interventions for dropout prevention, attendance, truancy or other disciplinary issues.
•    Allows parents to participate in the above activities for children in Kindergarten through Twelfth Grade.
•    Applies to businesses with 50 or more employees. 
•    Limits leave to 6 hours per month, and the employer may require that the leave be taken in increments of 3 hours or less.
•    Requires parents to provide employers with at least 1 calendar week’s notice of the leave, except in an emergency. 
•    Employers may require that employees provide written verification of the reason for leave, and in the case of leave taken for an emergency, the employee must provide written verification of the leave upon return to work. 
•    Part-time employees accrue their leave at the percentage of full-time hours that they work (if you work 20 hours a week you would receive half of the leave time received by a full-time employee).
•    An employer may limit the leave granted to an employee if the health and safety of a person necessitates that the employee be present at work.  
•    Specifies that businesses that already have comparable leave policies that may be used for the same purpose and under the other provisions of the bill are not required to provide additional leave.
•    Allows for employers to deny leave if their absence would result in a halt in service or production.

House Bill 15-1221 would permanently renew the 2009 Parental Involvement for Academic Achievement Act, and expand the definition of "school activity" to include events like back-to-school meetings and meetings with counselors. This legislation saw a significant fight in 2009 when originally passed, which is one of the reasons it included a five year "sunset" provision requiring it to be reauthorized by the General Assembly. We've seen nothing to suggest that the 2009 bill has caused problems for employers, but Republicans are getting air cover from conservative group Compass Colorado as they try to kill it:

“Everyone wants to encourage parent participation in their children’s academic lives,” said Kelly Maher, executive director of Compass Colorado. “We need to ask ourselves if we really need to legislate every aspect of the employer/employee relationship. Does more regulation imposed on businesses get the desired outcome, or will it just create more red tape and make the employer/employee relationship more adversarial?”

We're not saying they have a good argument, but it's interesting that Republicans are trying to fight what seems like a no-brainer bill. Supporters cite polling that says 93% of parents want to be involved with their child's education, but 52% say work responsibilities make that harder. We're not aware of any Democrats being targeted in 2010 for supporting parental leave legislation–but in 2016, what kinds of ads will be made about Republicans who are trying to repeal it? What does this say about the party who claims they're "pro-family?"

Once again, this is not a fight we would willingly take on, with a huge potential for blowback on Republicans from voters if they kill this bill. But that appears to be what's happening as of now.

Get More Smarter on Friday (Feb. 20)

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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.

Get even more smarter after the jump…

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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.