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Joey BunchJoey BunchMarch 15, 20184min494

Colorado Senate Democrats continued their attempts to amend a bill that would tie up $300 million a year from the state budget for transportation. Republicans played defense and ultimately passed Senate Bill 1 postponed to a third day of debate next Tuesday. If Republicans pass the legislation on a recorded vote with their one-seat majority, the bill would then bounce the legislation to the House, where Democrats have a majority and the votes to amend it heavily or kill it outright.


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Joey BunchJoey BunchMarch 14, 20186min756

The Colorado Senate considered a bill to beef up funding for transportation without raising taxes Wednesday but it bogged down in amendnents about where the money would go, as well as delivering a tacit protest of the bill's sponsor. Senate Bill 1 would ask voters in November to set aside more than $300 million a year in existing sales taxes and fees to repay more than $3.5 billion in loans to jump-start major projects, especially widening Interstate 25 north of Monument and Denver, as well as the I-70 mountain corridor.


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Joey BunchJoey BunchMarch 13, 20183min464

State Sen. Bob Gardner was having breakfast reading the newspaper when he saw that a public-sector union was on strike elsewhere in the country. The Republican from Colorado Springs was not supportive. "And I got to thinking about the fact that those collective bargaining agreements are often negotiated by people who are being paid by the taxpayers to negotiate against the interests of the elected officials and the government that the taxpayers fund," he told the Senate chamber Monday morning.


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Joey BunchJoey BunchJanuary 21, 20185min524

Sen. Mike Merrifield, in his last session before retiring from the legislature, is more hopeful than ever about securing an optional accreditation point for Colorado schools that offer arts programs.

He tried and failed last year, but this session Senate Bill 8 has an influential co-sponsor among Republicans, Majority Leader Chris Holbert of Parker.

Merrifield, a Democrat from Colorado Springs, said no school would be punished if it didn’t offer theater, band, visual arts or some other sanctioned creative outlet their students, but those that do would recognized and rewarded at the state level.

Accreditation is the yardstick the state Department of Education uses to grade schools, from the accredited with a turnaround plan to accredited with distinction.

“This is my attempt to maintain what every scientific study has shown gives children an opportunity to have greater success in school and later in life,” Merrifield said.

On the Senate floor, assuming, Merrifield can deliver all the Democratic votes and independent Cheri Jahn of Wheat Ridge, Holbert could provide the swing vote to bounce the bill to the Democratic-led House. His influence would likely attract more support than that, however.

“As a person who struggles with dyslexia, I know how empowering it can be for students to have opportunities to learn by seeing, doing and hearing,” Holbert said. “I’m proud to work with Sen. Merrifield to encourage such opportunities for students throughout Colorado.”

But the legislation first will have to clear the Senate Education Committee, chaired by Sen. Owen Hill, R-Colorado Springs, next Thursday afternoon. Hill opposed the bill last year.

Merrifield said some critics in both parties might have motives they don’t like to specify, namely that testing in public schools discourages attention to the arts. He opposed Senate Bill 191 in 2010, which called for newer testing standards by 2013.

“For those opposed, I think they’re basically saying, ‘We don’t want to distract concentration from the subject areas that are tested by having any opportunity for schools and students to emphasize or be evaluated in the arts,'” Merrifield said. “It’s a frill, when what’s important to them is what gets tested.

“They won’t say it that way, but that’s what it’s about.”

Merrifield said he understands that poor districts have “only a very limited pot of money” and across the state lots of schools have had to cut back funding. He wants to provide some incentive to bring them back.

But many rural schools and charter schools simply can’t keep up, said Luke Ragland, the president of the conservative school-choice advocacy group ReadyCO. He said he loves the promise of more arts education in all schools, and he sees the benefits an arts curriculum provides students.

Ragland is concerned that it’s an unrealistic measurement for some schools that will naturally favor large, wealthy schools. Rural and small charter schools have a hard enough time attracting and retaining students.

Setting a state standard for what art courses should look like is rife with unintended consequences, he said.

Those charter and rural schools offering some arts courses now might be less likely to offer them, if the state standard suggests they need to hire a drama teacher or buy band instruments they can’t afford to qualify for a credit that’s easily in reach of larger schools.

“It would potentially lead to a narrowing of the arts curriculum in smaller schools, not expand it,” Ragland said. “It’s a tricky issue.”


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Joey BunchJoey BunchNovember 9, 20172min848
The race to succeed Rep. Pete Lee in House District 18 in Colorado Springs next year got a little more crowded when former Manitou Springs Mayor Marc Snyder signed up for the race last week. Lee is running in Senate District 11 to succeed Mike Merrifield, a former Manitou Springs city councilman who is retiring […]

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