Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirMay 15, 20177min455

The perennial teacher shortage that bedevils many Colorado school districts, especially in rural communities, prompted legislation this year to study the problem in depth in the hope it will yield a solution at some point. That bill is now on its way to the governor.

Bob Schaffer thinks he could have saved lawmakers the trouble with this simple advice: Cut regulations, instead. Particularly, the requirement for licensing teachers in the state’s public schools.

The conservative Republican and longtime education-reform advocate once was a state lawmaker himself. He also was a lot more — a three-term congressman from Colorado’s 4th Congressional District; a member of the State Board of Education, and a leading strategist of the state’s school-choice movement. He is now the principal at Fort Collins’s vaunted Liberty Common High School, a charter school that is regularly among the state’s top academic performers. And in his spare moments, he pens a column for hometown paper The Coloradoan.

In his latest column, published last week, Schaffer drills down on what he believes is a big reason there aren’t enough teachers to go around. He writes, “It’s high time to liberate educators” from the strictures of licensure, and he bemoans the demise of another bill in the 2017 session that barely saw light of day but, he maintains, could have done much more to tackle the teacher shortage:

…Earlier in the session, one lawmaker petitioned his colleagues to suspend rural teacher-licensure requirements in order to free up available talent — for example, people with English degrees, engineering degrees, agriculture degrees and other relevant academic credentials — to fill classroom teaching jobs. The lawmaker spiked his own proposal, saying he couldn’t persuade members of the House Education Committee to support it.

As it turned out, the bill got crosswise with the education establishment:

…these politicians had been lobbied by the State Board of Education, which voiced its opposition to the idea of allowing unlicensed teachers to help rescue rural schoolchildren. So did the Colorado Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, which fiercely defends coercive licensure regulations and other artificial barriers to market entry.

Schaffer says that’s ironic because that same establishment itself is on record questioning the value of licensure:

In 2012, the Colorado Department of Education began questioning the value of teacher licensure. It reported, “The current system of licensure relies primarily on program completion and qualifications that are not meaningfully connected to student learning.”

Licensing officials admitted the current licensure system “is largely input-focused and compliance-based, relying on qualifications that do not accurately measure educator preparedness or effectiveness.” The Commissioner of Education bluntly added, “a teacher license guarantees nothing.” They’re right.

Despite licensure requirements that serve no pragmatic purpose, Colorado schoolteachers are coerced into forking over enormous sums and diverting considerable amounts of classroom time in order to qualify for, purchase and maintain credentials regarded as meaningless by the same government that issues them.

Unlicensed teachers? But, isn’t that crazy talk? How will we know if they are qualified? According to Schaffer, that’s a consideration that should be left to the schools themselves, not state law or the state education bureaucracy. And he maintains some of the best schools already do it that way:

There’s no rational reason rural principals should be denied the same freedom to hire competent unlicensed instructors, as most of the state’s top-performing public schools have been doing for over 20 years.

Indeed, charter public schoolteachers, for example, are exempt from licensure requirements. For decades, charter principals have been free to hire legitimate content experts, former college professors, and other experts whose invaluable professional experiences have prepared them for encore careers as teachers.

Unlicensed teachers are among the state’s best classroom instructors. Their students are among the most thoroughly prepared for college — consistently.

OK, but here’s the real question: Is Schaffer (who many years ago was this blogger’s boss in a former profession) just peddling a mantra — deregulation — of his political ilk? Or, does his prescription have practical value for luring more teachers into the trenches in the hardest-to-fill slots in rural Colorado?

We blogged about the spiked bill Schaffer references, and it’s worth pondering the words of its sponsor at the time it was derailed. Rep. Jim Wilson of Salida is a Republican but hardly an ideologue on education reform (or any other issue); he didn’t come across as someone picking a fight with the teachers union, just as a lawmaker frustrated by understaffed schools in his district — and proposing what he saw as a common-sense step.

Wilson, quoted by Chalkbeat’s Nicholas Garcia, seemed exasperated at the lack of support for his bill amid no real alternatives:

“My question is: Who is going to be concerned between unlicensed educators versus no educators? … There’s no easy simple solution to going out and finding (licensed teachers). They’re not there. I’ve never seen this kind of crisis — ever.”


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Rachael WrightRachael WrightMarch 2, 201715min389

…Twenty Years Ago This Week in The Colorado Statesman … The Colorado General Assembly seemed to have lawmakers' heads stuck in the corporate law section of the Colorado Revised Statutes. At the start of the 1997 legislative session, the Colorado Bar Association pushed two measures in the Legislature that would have far reaching impact in corporate law, and would likely help corporate lawyers make a little extra cash too. One bill revised the Nonprofit Corporation Act and another changed Colorado’s partnership law, while still another helped define the role of partners in a business entity should creditors come knocking.


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Ernest LuningErnest LuningFebruary 16, 201720min518

On his last day as chairman of the Jefferson County Republican Party, Don Ytterberg had a few things to say. After welcoming several hundred members of the county GOP’s central committee — along with family, friends and a handful of Republican candidates — to the party’s biennial reorganization meeting on Saturday, Feb. 4, at Green Mountain High School in Lakewood, Ytterberg spoke to the crowd about his time at the helm.


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Lynn BartelsLynn BartelsMay 23, 20165min644

Larry Klein knew his wife Marge had a lot of friends — after all, she had worked for two congressmen and been active in the Republican Party for eons — but he didn’t truly understand how many until she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Larry broke down this afternoon at a fundraiser to help his wife pay for chemo treatments, which weren’t covered by their insurance. “It’s just overwhelming,” he said. Plenty of bold-face names showed up at Brian Watson’s home in Greenwood Village for the “Pony Up for Marge”