Joey BunchJoey BunchAugust 8, 20176min291
Is paying teachers more the best way to solve the statewide shortage? Maybe a compelling marketing campaign would help attract would-be teachers. What about providing college scholarships to high school students interested in the career? Perhaps it would be best to have a more flexible system that allows people to work as part-time educators while […]

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Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirJuly 27, 20176min428
Graduates pick up high school diplomas and college credit at Colorado Early Colleges. (coloradoearlycolleges.org)


At a time in life when most former politicians are simply enjoying (or resenting) their retirement; when most successful entrepreneurs are savoring the fruits of their toils, Keith King has bolder aspirations. King, who has distinguished himself both in business and in public office, is shifting into high gear in his longtime quest for education reform.

His Colorado Early Colleges charter school — which he founded in Colorado Springs and still runs daily — has expanded to three other other campuses along the Front Range. It is in many ways the culmination of his decades of education advocacy as an elected official.

We caught up with the 69-year-old Republican former state senator this week for one of our “Q&A” sessions — you’ll see it published soon — and got a bonus update on King’s innovative charter program. It affords ninth- through 12th-graders a chance to concurrently enroll in college as they attend high school. Students can graduate high school with associate’s degrees or even bachelor’s degrees from an accredited college. Some 2,400 students will be enrolled once the latest Early Colleges campus opens this fall in Aurora. The students are as diverse as their ambitions; some were college-bound from the cradle while other may have thought they wouldn’t even make it through high school.

King, a onetime high school shop teacher who also has served in the Colorado state House (where he was majority leader), on the Colorado Springs City Council and on his local school board at the foot of Cheyenne Mountain, now bears the unassuming title of administrator at CEC.

“We tell kids you can accomplish things you never thought possible,” King tells us in the forthcoming Q&A. “We are teaching them you can choose to be successful if you want to be successful.”

He still has plenty of the policy maven in him from his legislative days; King is widely respected as an education wonk and remains a go-to source on the dizzying complexities of policies like the annual School Finance Act. Just this spring, he was extensively involved in legislation at the Capitol that will give credit where it’s due to concurrent-enrollment programs like his for their ability to prepare students for college and work. Senate Bill 272, which was signed into law last month by Gov. John Hickenlooper, will tweak state law to let schools like Colorado Early Colleges cite their students’ college enrollment in meeting criteria for their annual accreditation with the state education department.

William Mutch, in Washington in January for the presidential inauguration. (Photo courtesy of William Mutch.)

The bipartisan legislation, forged by a broad coalition of stakeholders, was sponsored by Sen. Kevin Priola, R-Henderson, and Reps. Brittany Pettersen, D-Lakewood, and Paul Lundeen, R-Monument.

It turns out a member of the team that navigated the bill through the legislative process was another longtime presence at the Capitol, William Mutch, and we wound up catching up with him, too. Mutch, a onetime chief of staff to then-Senate President John Andrews, was hired by Colorado Early Colleges to be its eyes and ears during the session.

“Lobbyists often prefer to deal with other lobbyists, and William did all of that initial work and paved the way for me,” King said.

Says Mutch, “For Keith, education is such a passion, and he had carried so many of the bills that are part of Colorado’s current system.”

Capitol insiders also may recall Mutch from his days running the shop at powerhouse business-advocacy group Colorado Concern; he has represented an array of groups at the Capitol, including home builders. He also has worked extensively in recent years on issues in Colorado Springs.


Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirJune 7, 20173min281
iStock image / maxsattana


… what other state agencies might have a similarly freewheeling approach with the public’s checkbook. So surmises conservative blog Colorado Peak Politics.

ColoradoPolitics.com’s Peter Marcus reported earlier this week on a state audit that found none of the $1.9 million in incentives awarded to film projects shot in Colorado had met all the criteria for the subsidies. Marcus writes that the audit “identified $129,000 for projects that did not qualify for incentives and another $1.8 million for projects for which the Office of Film, Television, and Media ‘lacked documentation to substantiate they qualified.'”

Peak Politics pounces upon the findings to propose a list of other worthy prospects for an audit. Some of the suggested targets are among the usual suspects — and regular whipping boys — for those on the right side of the political fence:

  • Colorado Department of Health Care Policy and Financing
  • Connect for Health Colorado
  • Colorado Department of Education
  • Colorado Energy Office
  • Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment

Some of targets are repeat offenders and invite follow-up scrutiny by the lights of Republicans and conservatives. For example, Health Care Policy and Financing (you may know it as “HickPuff”; no relation to the guv), which manages Medicaid for the state; Peak notes a 2016 audit found some Medicaid recipients were ineligible but not removed from the rolls.

And then there’s the Energy Office, much unloved by Republicans who are ever wary of the office’s original green-energy-promoting mandate. Peak observes:

This is the office that lost like $200 million a few years ago. The state auditor just finished up an audit in January, but for the love of God, you lose $200 million, you should be audited always.

Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirMay 15, 20177min457

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.”


Paula NoonanPaula NoonanApril 28, 20175min413

The state boosted its per pupil funding for public school students by 2.8 percent out of the General Fund to $6,585,800,182 for 2017-2018. That number works out to $6,546.20 per student, according to Senate Bill 17-296. Adding other sources, the Colorado Department of Education estimates that the average per pupil funding for next year will be $7,605, up from $7,420.