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Improving our education system is a year-round commitment

By Andy Kerr
Guest Commentary, Denver Post

Posted:   07/02/2014 12:27:37 PM MDT

Colorado Sen. Andy Kerr, D-Lakewood, testifies before a Senate Education Committee hearing for SB-201, that Kerr sponsored. Kerr’s dog, Angus, a

Colorado Sen. Andy Kerr, D-Lakewood, testifies before a Senate Education Committee. (Andy Cross, Denver Post file)

Last month, I introduced myself to a group of Lakewood second-graders as Andy — teacher first, legislator second. As a teacher, I am honored to serve in the Senate because education is my passion. Not only do I love teaching in Jefferson County schools, but I also want to make sure my three kids and other students across Colorado have the same educational opportunities I had.

The 2014 legislative session was a productive one for Colorado kids. As chair of the Senate Education Committee, I was proud to play a key role in meeting our goal of putting Colorado kids first and creating a world-class education system from preschool through college. Better yet, we did it in a bipartisan and collaborative way, taking input not only from Republican and Democratic legislators, but also from parents, teachers and administrators.

Back in January, I kicked off the legislative session by joining Sen. Cheri Jahn to introduce the College Affordability Act in the Senate. This new law invests an additional $100 million in Colorado’s colleges and universities and caps tuition increases in the coming years. Making college affordable is not just an investment in our students; it’s also a commitment to protecting the security and economic future of our citizens and our state.

That commitment begins with creating a strong public education system here in Colorado. I helped lead the charge on two school funding measures that commit an additional $464 million to supporting students and teachers, fund 5,000 new preschool and kindergarten opportunities for Colorado kids, and provide an additional $20 million for struggling readers in kindergarten through third grade.

But building a world-class education system in Colorado isn’t just about throwing more money at the system. Rather, it’s about making targeted, accountable investments in programs that work, so all Coloradans are getting a good return on their taxpayer dollars. That’s why I sponsored a bill to help Colorado continue the Safe Routes to School program that encourages walking and biking to school. The bill became law last month.

I also sponsored bills to support gifted and talented students, strengthen and clarify online education standards, give flexibility to school districts, and reduce testing and assessments for Colorado students.

I’m proud of the work we did this year, and I’m proud that all of my successful bills this year had bipartisan support. But these important legislative achievements are only the first steps in a long road to improving and strengthening Colorado’s education system. We have more work to do. While we may sometimes disagree on certain issues, the 2014 legislative session showed firsthand what we can accomplish when Coloradans come together, and I’m confident that we will continue to put the needs of Colorado students before politics and partisanship.

Andy Kerr is a teacher from Lakewood. He represents District 22 in the state Senate.

$100 million under SB 1 will aid education

…but it’s only a beginning
The Colorado Statesman

Colorado isn’t likely to climb much out of the cellar in nationwide rankings of per-student funding for higher education anytime soon, but a $100 million investment from the General Assembly should be a good start.

Wednesday, the Senate Education Committee took testimony on Senate Bill 14-001, which would put $100 million into higher education, an increase that begins to remedy the general fund cuts to higher education over the past decade. The bill designates $40 million for state-funded, need-based financial aid, $8.3 million for the college opportunity fund vouchers, $49.3 million into fee-for-service funding, and the balance into support for local district junior colleges and area vocational schools. SB 1 contains a 6 percent limit on tuition increases for 2014-15.

The committee will bring the bill back for amendments and a vote on Feb. 6.

In 2000, Colorado provided 68 percent of the funding for students to go to public colleges; the students were responsible for 32 percent of their college costs. Today, that figure has flipped: 69 percent is now borne by the students and their parents, and 31 percent comes from the state. “We cannot continue to shift the costs to students and parents,” said Frank Watrous of the Bell Policy Center, who testified in favor of SB 1 Wednesday.

Usually, changes to the state’s higher ed budget are done through the Long Appropriations Bill, but sponsors defended the use of a separate bill for the increase Wednesday. Co-sponsor Sen. Andy Kerr, D-Lakewood, told the committee that he chairs that it’s about accountability. “It means we are trying to bring attention as much as possible to the reinvestment in higher education… and at the same time hold instructions accountable” by lowering the tuition limit, he said. Putting the $100 million into the budget through the Long bill might not make such an increase as obvious, he added.

For the past several years, public colleges and universities have had authority from SB 10-003 to raise tuition by up to 9 percent, but they also had permission under that bill to seek higher increases through a waiver to the Colorado Commission on Higher Education. All but one institution, the Colorado School of Mines, obtained those waivers, so 27 out of 28 colleges and universities had permission to exceed the 9 percent cap.

The 6 percent tuition limit in SB 1 didn’t play as well for a couple of the committee’s Republican members. Sen. Mark Scheffel, R-Parker, said he thought the 6 percent limit was arbitrary and would prefer an increase tied to the rate of inflation. On the other hand, “perhaps we’re injecting ourselves into an area where we don’t belong,” an area that he said belongs under the authority of the college and university presidents and their boards.

Colorado Mesa University President Tim Foster deferred to the authority of the General Assembly. “The state is the owner of 28 institutions, as you make an investment, your voice and input are important… This kind of guidance we take seriously.”

While the $100 million boost will help, it’s a far cry from the highpoint of higher education funding in the past decade, and doesn’t even meet a statutory requirement set in 2004.

Under the legislation that created the College Opportunity Fund, the General Assembly was required to increase general fund support by a formula based on inflation and enrollment. Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia, who heads the Department of Higher Education and is a former president of Adams State College, said that if the Legislature made that kind of increase this year, it would cost almost another $100 million.

Students packed the hearing room during testimony Wednesday. Several community college students said they are paying their own way through college. Raenn Acosta, a student at the Community College of Denver, said some of her high school classmates chose to go into the workforce directly after high school rather than go to college because of the “outrageous” cost.

No one testified against SB 1, although Watrous, from the Bell Policy Center, said the $5 million targeted for merit aid ought to go to need-based aid instead, a recommendation also made by the Joint Budget Committee staff in a December briefing document on higher education issues. Merit aid equals options, Watrous said; need-based aid equals opportunity.

Watrous also addressed the issue of student debt, in response to a question from new Sen. Rachel Zenzinger, D-Arvada. Student debt is a significant issue in every state, he said. Some students make decisions on degree programs based on what the jobs will pay after graduation, and this results in students not choosing to go into areas needed “for the continuation of the social fabric” because those jobs don’t pay as well, Watrous explained.

According to the Project on Student Debt, in 2012 Colorado students averaged $24,540 in college loan debt at graduation, and 52 percent of those graduating from state colleges and universities leave with debt. The national average is around $29,400, with seven in 10 students graduating with debt. Student loan debt increases at 6 percent per year.

SB 1 doesn’t solve every affordability issue, but it’s a step in the right direction, said Kerr in a press conference with reporters earlier this month. Co-sponsor Sen. Cheri Jahn, D-Wheat Ridge, said the bill is important to her because of its impact on her community. Students at one of her local high schools tell her that they can’t afford to go to college, yet a majority of the jobs in the future will require a college degree. “If we really want to help the middle class, you make sure everybody has access to higher education,” whether at a two-year or four-year college or a technical institution.

Kerr told The Colorado Statesman earlier this week that SB 1 isn’t designed to “rectify all the wrongs done to higher education financing” over the last decade. “It is designed to finally stop the pendulum” from swinging in the direction of more cuts and higher tuition increases. “This puts a stop to the out-of-control spiraling of tuition, and while it doesn’t reverse as much as we would like, it slows the growth of tuition and starts restoring some of the funds that have been cut.”

In that same interview, Jahn said the bill is just a first step in addressing higher education affordability. This “is about the middle class and lower income students,” she told The Statesman. “It’s the start of the discussion.” Jahn also said the bill is not only intended to address the funding for larger higher education institutions, but it also is about helping rural colleges.

Kerr and Jahn pointed out that all resident students will qualify for COF increases, proposed at $8.3 million. Currently, the COF voucher is worth $64 per credit hour, with a maximum of $1,920 per 30-credit hour year. Based on enrollment of 138,855 students listed in the 2013 Long Bill, $8.3 million would increase the COF by $2 per hour, or $60 per year.

Last week, the Colorado Commission on Higher Education released its annual tuition and fee report. It shows resident undergraduate tuition and fees ranging from a low of $1,860 for 30 credit hours at Colorado Mountain College, to $10,347 at CU-Boulder and $16,485 for the Colorado School of Mines. Based on 2013-14 rates, a 6 percent increase in tuition only at Colorado Mountain College would be $100.80; at CU-Boulder it would be $483.36 and at Mines, $815.40.

In 2010, Colorado ranked 50th nationally in state support for its research universities (CU-Boulder and Colorado State University-Fort Collins), according to the National Science Foundation. Overall, the state ranked 48th in per-student state funding for its public colleges and universities, according to a 2011 University of Colorado report.


Senator Andy Kerr to Carry Senate Bill 1: Bill Seeks to Cap Tuition Rates

Democratic state lawmakers have drafted legislation aimed at making college a little less expensive.
Last week, the College Affordability Act became the first bill to be introduced in the Senate this legislative session. The bill would cap college tuition rate increases, and would make more money available for students seeking financial aid.
Sen. Andy Kerr, D-Lakewood, a bill sponsor, said the legislation is about “making sure every kid who graduates in Colorado — with the skills and ability and the grades — has access to higher education.”
“I really think where we’ve gone the last few years, with the incredible tuition increases that we’ve seen, is a lot the institutions having not just priced at-risk students out, but also pricing out a lot of our middle class students, even with getting loans and financial aid,” Kerr said.
Under current law, colleges and universities can increase tuition 9 percent annually. Senate Bill 1 would cap tuition increases for undergraduate students at 6 percent.
Kerr, who serves as chairman of the Senate’s Education Committee, said that state budget cuts in higher education are partly to blame for skyrocketing tuition costs in recent years.
“The years that we really slashed funding to higher education are the years that tuition really increased quite a bit,” he said.
The bill would increase higher education funding by more than $100 million. That’s in addition to whatever funds are appropriated through the annual budget. Most of that money would go to colleges and universities, by way of the College Opportunity Fund, which provides tuition stipends for undergraduate students.
The rest of the funding, $40 million worth, would go to various financial aid programs.
The bill is a priority for Senate Democrats and Gov. John Hickenlooper.
Much of Senate President Morgan Carroll’s speech opening during the first day of the legislative session focused on Senate Bill 1.
In her remarks, Carroll, an Aurora Democrat, talked about her grandfather’s and her mother’s struggles to afford college. She also shared her own story about having to work multiple jobs after high school so that she could save money to go to college.
“Access to college or trade and technical education changes lives,” Carroll said. “Yet, the opportunities that were there for three generations before me … are now going the wrong way, moving backwards — and college is less affordable now than it was when I was in school.”
The bill puts in statute the $100 million funding request for the Department of Higher Education that Hickenlooper made to the Joint Budget Committee in November.
Typically, education funding is dealt with through the budget process, and not a separate appropriation. Carroll told reporters recently that she wanted a separate bill that includes the cap and Hickenlooper’s funding proposal, because she feels the two are “connected.”
In Hickenlooper’s State of the State speech on Jan. 9, the governor received a standing ovation from both sides of the aisle, when he addressed the measure in his remarks.
Matt Connelly, the spokesman for Senate Republicans, said Senate leadership is currently studying the bill.
Rep. Polly Lawrence, R-Douglas County, said after the governor’s speech that she is “concerned” about the capping the tuition rate at 6 percent.
“Because in some ways that gives (higher education institutions) permission to raise tuition 6 percent,” she said.
In response, Kerr said it is important for colleges to understand that the 6 percent “is a cap, not a floor.”
Carroll acknowledged that the bill isn’t a total remedy for reining in tuition costs.
“This is reversing a trend,” Carroll said. “It’s not going to suddenly make college more affordable to all folks.”
Sen. Cheri Jahn, D-Wheat Ridge, a bill co-sponsor, said the legislation should be considered a jobs bill, in addition to being an education measure.
“We always hear, ‘It’s about jobs. We need to create jobs,’” Jahn said. “You go to the cause and stop trying to put Band-Aids on symptoms. Why are more people not going to college? Well, it’s because people can’t afford it. So if you really want to do something solid for economic develop, let’s get people educated.”
By Vic Vela


Senator Kerr interviewed regarding the work the CO State Legislature did on Forest Fire Mitigation

DENVER (CBS4) – Homeowners who want to do wildfire mitigation now have access to millions of dollars in matching funds from the state.

Months before the Black Forest Fire state lawmakers were already sounding an alarm.

“I think one of the things that got a little bit overlooked this session was the number of bills we had dealing with fire prevention and fire mitigation,” said Sen. Andy Kerr, D-Jefferson County said.

Kerr says wildfires will happen. The laws passed — more than a half dozen this year — are focused on lessening their intensity by reducing their fuel.

“When I’ve talked to folks who live in the red zone, the number one reason they say have not done mitigation is time and the cost to them out of pocket,” Kerr said.

Lawmakers re-authorized a 2008 bill that provides tax credits for 50 percent of a homeowners mitigation costs up to $2,500. But that only helps so much if neighbors don’t mitigate as well. So they passed another law aimed at helping entire communities do mitigation. It provides nearly $10 million in matching grants for not only local governments, but homeowners associations.

“Ultimately what that means is we’ll be putting almost $20 million worth of work on the ground,” Lisa Dale with the Department of Natural Resources said.

That kind of large scale mitigation is what lawmakers hope will reduce the damage caused by fires.

“It would be great if next summer we might hear about some small fires, but they don’t get blown up into the big ones kill people and destroy homes,” Kerr said.

In addition to financial help, the state forest service offers information on everything from how to set up a community wildfire protection plan to fire-wise building materials and landscaping. A state forester will even come to homes to do an assessment of a home’s fire risk.

Bill would punish outsourcing on state projects

Posted: Tuesday, April 9, 2013 3:08 pm | Updated: 10:11 am, Fri Apr 12, 2013.

Vic Vela | 0 comments

Democratic lawmakers on April 8 unveiled legislation aimed at promoting local hiring and putting in place penalties for contractors who outsource work involving state projects, when avoidable.

But, so far, the so-called Keep Jobs in Colorado Act has been met with uneasiness by representatives of the contracting field, who are expressing concern over key requirements of the legislation and worry that the bill could run up the cost of doing business with the state.

House Bill 1292 was announced at a Capitol press conference, where it was touted as a bill that will “reform state procurement,” the bidding process for state work projects.

Rep. Dan Pabon, D-Denver, said the legislation will “promote local hiring, domestic manufacturing, and will help stop the outsourcing of jobs with taxpayer money.”

“Our number one job is boosting our state’s economy and connecting more Coloradans to good jobs,” Pabon said. “One way to do that is to ensure that state funds, our taxpayer dollars, go to hire Colorado workers and support Colorado businesses.”

The bill would expand the state’s “best value” bidding process, to include factors beyond low bidding in awarding contracts, such as the availability of Colorado workers and whether domestic materials like iron and steel are being used for state-backed projects.

The bill also would put in place financial penalties for companies that do not meet a current legal threshold, which requires that 80 percent of all taxpayer-backed state project labor be conducted by Colorado workers.

Sen. Andy Kerr, D-Lakewood, said that the 80 percent requirement has been on the books since 1933, but that the jail penalty for company owners who do not abide by the law has not been enforced.

Kerr said the bill would replace jail time with financial penalties for companies that do not comply, with fees as high as $25,000 when violations are found.

“We are putting some teeth into a law that is already in existence,” Kerr said. “And we are making sure that it is feasible for it to be followed, as well.”

The bill takes a “three strikes and you’re out” approach to companies that do not comply with the law, which could result in a company no longer being able to do business with the state. Enforcement will be up to the state Department of Personnel and Administration and the state Department of Labor and Employment.

“If somebody violates those rules, there’s going to be consequences,” Pabon said.

But representatives of the contracting field were not exactly jumping out of their seats with excitement over the bill, during a legislative committee hearing that followed the press event.

Some had neutral positions on the bill, saying they just don’t know enough about the legislation or its cost to form an opinion at this time. But they did express concern over the 80 percent requirement, especially over how it’s enforced.

Some who testified said that, for example, it would be difficult for contractors to ensure they are working with Colorado-based materials.

“That’s a complicated process,” said Craig Clark of Dynaelectric, an electrical contracting company. “We have a tough enough time identifying a U.S. project.”

Republican members of the House State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee also expressed concern that contractors would be penalized over things that would be difficult for them to control, such as whether those in the process are being honest about whether labor and materials are Colorado-based.

“There’s absolutely no way in this free market system that everyone is going to be truthful,” said Rep. Ray Scott, R-Grand Junction. “It gets into the weeds so deep and puts such a burden on a general contractor.”

The committee ran out of time during the hearing and will vote on the matter at another time.


Kids fight for abandoned dogs and cats to become Colorado state pets

Posted: 03/22/2013 12:01:00 AM MDT
Updated: 03/22/2013 08:30:25 AM MDT

By Colleen O’Connor
The Denver Post

Sen. Andy Kerr, D-Lakewood, testifies before a Senate Education Committee hearing for SB 201, which would make shelter and rescue dogs and cats the official state pet. Kerr’s rescue black lab Angus and son, Griffin, 3, in Dalmatian makeup, joined him. (Andy Cross, The Denver Post)

It was like a dogfight at the Senate Education Committee on Thursday afternoon.

The battle to make dogs and cats adopted from shelter and rescue centers the official state pet pitted schoolkids against professional lobbyists representing purebred dog clubs, retailers, groomers and dog-show organizers.

The bill ultimately passed, 6-3, but there were moments when the students from Peakview School in Walsenburg thought their project, designed to help them learn about the legislative process, could go either way.

So many people arrived to testify that stragglers were left to find seats in the overflow room. Dog leashes stretched across the packed hallway, obstacles for the unwary, and piercing barks interrupted testimony. Griffin Kerr, the 3-year-old son of the bill’s sponsor, Andy Kerr, D-Lakewood, cavorted around the room dressed as a spotted dog because his preschool had just celebrated Dalmatian Day.

And that was just the sideshow.

Testimony started with Roger Arellano, 14, who had arrived on a bus from Walsenburg with other middle-schoolers from Peakview who had been researching the bill.

“It’s important to honor the voice of the voiceless,” he said.

Speaking up on behalf of shelter and rescue dogs is “a matter of life and death” for millions of dogs and cats, he said. “And you can save a lot of money compared to getting them from a pet store.”

This did not go over well with supporters of the pet industry.

“The language of the bill honors the transaction, saying the only qualified state pet is adopted from shelter and rescue,” said Dan Anglin of Anglin Public Affairs.

Anglin represents the Colorado Federation of Dog Clubs, which holds dog shows, and the Colorado Pet Association, a group of animal retailers, groomers and breeders.

“The state already honors that with a license plate,” said Anglin, who added that the economic impact of American Kennel Club purebred dog ownership in Colorado was an estimated $20.48 million each year.

There was another problem with the bill.

“It unfairly discriminates against birds, reptiles, arachnids and other mammals,” he said. “And snakes, lizards and spiders.”

Many opponents said the bill should focus on heroic dogs, such as service dogs, law enforcement dogs, cadaver dogs and military dogs.

Then, patriotism was invoked.

“We do our share too,” said Karen Kotke-Partington, a member of the Norfolk Terrier Club. “When a puppy owner went to Iraq, we took care of the puppy,” she said, adding that when the soldier returned, the dog meant everything to him.

Interloper Skyler Kuykendall, a fifth-grader at Rooney Ranch Elementary School in Lakewood, sought to amend the bill to include the golden retriever as the state dog.

With his golden retriever, Boz, at his side, he ticked off a list of reasons including “brown eyes like the Rocky Mountains” and “golden color that is like all of the gold that has been found in Colorado.”

The Walsenburg students sat in the back, rapt at democracy in action.

“The argument swung between service dogs and shelter dogs,” said Kaylee Summers, 14. “It was difficult to decide, because both sides made sense.”

Read more: Kids fight for abandoned dogs and cats to become Colorado state pets – The Denver Post
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Columbine Courier: Sen. Andy Kerr and constituents discuss variety of issues over appetizers and cocktails

By Ramsey Scott

More than a dozen constituents braved snowy conditions Feb. 20 to share some appetizers with state Sen. Andy Kerr. But they wanted to share more than tapas — the South Jeffco residents at Q’s Pub & Grille that chilly night wanted to hear the first-term Democrat’s opinions on a variety of topics, and to share their own.

<div class="source">Gabriel Christus</div><div class="image-desc">State Sen. Andy Kerr discussed a wide range of topics with his constituents Feb. 20 at Q's Pub and Grille in South Jeffco.</div><div class="buy-pic"><a  data-cke-saved-href=";orig=news-townhall02-gc-022713.JPG" href=";orig=news-townhall02-gc-022713.JPG" target="_new">Buy this photo</a></div>

Gabriel Christus
State Sen. Andy Kerr discussed a wide range of topics with his constituents Feb. 20 at Q’s Pub and Grille in South Jeffco.

While the gathering was billed as an education forum, the topics were not limited to education issues facing the legislature this year. The subject matter ranged from gun-control measures being considered at the Capitol to regulations on hydraulic fracturing near homes.

Unlike a typical town-hall format in which the politician is the center of attention while fielding questions, Kerr floated from table to table, entering the free-flowing discussions among the attendees.

“It’s better and more productive to talk to fellow citizens with different opinions,” said attendee Gary Landin.

Landin had been peppering Kerr with questions on subjects ranging from fracking to the looming federal government sequester funding cuts. But once Kerr had worked his way to another table, the conversation didn’t stop. Landin, along with Young Willingham and Tim Carlson, continued discussing the points brought up in their conversation with Kerr, who represents the newly redrawn Senate District 22 in South Jeffco.

“The national level of government is almost totally broken,” Carlson said. “Here (on the local level) is where you find the votes and get work done.”

All three men, who met for the first time at the event, said being able to share their ideas helped them feel like they weren’t just sitting on the sidelines.

“A free and proper exchange of ideas is a great thing,” Willingham said. “As long as you do it with respect.”

While the answers to the nation’s problems weren’t necessarily hashed out in one evening, Landin said it beat the alternative.

“It’s better than (complaining) in your kitchen by yourself,” Landin said.

For information on Kerr’s next Appetizers with Andy appearance, which are at locally owned restaurants, visit


Contact Ramsey Scott at or 303-933-2233, ext. 22. 

Senator Kerr Interviewed by Columbine Courier

Senator Kerr discussed the new session, and a wide variety of issues on his plate, with reporter Ramsey Scott of the Columbine Courier.

Read the article “Kerr Confronts Familiar Issues in Senate” Here

Lawmakers Hobble To End Of Special Session

Colorado lawmakers wrapped up a special session Wednesday with little to show for returning to work. It was an extraordinary session, with quite ordinary results. “After what happened last week, it was extremely important that we come back and do the work we were sent here to do,” said Democratic Rep. Andy Kerr.

Go to → Lawmakers Hobble To End Of Special Session

Kerr, Harvey proud of their “veto” pens

When governors sign bills, they typically give the signing pens to the bill sponsors to honor their roles in creating the new laws. But on Tuesday, Rep. Andy Kerr, D-Lakewood, and Sen. Ted Harvey, R-Highlands Ranch, were walking around the Capitol with their “veto pens” — the pens that Gov. John Hickenlooper used to veto Senate Bill 124. Of course, Harvey, who was the bill’s sponsor, and Kerr, who was the bill’s loudest opponent in the House, had different perspectives on the writing instruments.

Go to → Kerr, Harvey proud of their “veto” pens