Colo. Gov. Vetoes Limits on Certification

Published June 1, 2006

On March 30, Colorado Gov. Bill Owens (R) vetoed a bill that would have added new restrictions to the state’s two-year-old alternative certification program for school principals.

Under current law in the state, an individual may become a public school principal through a traditional track that requires teaching experience and a master’s degree, or through an alternative, state-approved induction program that includes coaching, mentoring, and professional development while on the job. The second method enables professionals from private schools, the business sector, higher education, and other fields to enter public school administration with an initial license that may be renewed every three years for the duration of their career. Such individuals may choose to seek a full professional license by earning a master’s degree.

House Bill 06-1023, sponsored by state Rep. Keith King (R-Colorado Springs) and state Sen. Sue Windels (D-Arvada) but then amended significantly during markup, would have required everyone seeking professional principal licensure–even those hoping to be licensed through the alternative route–to have at least three years’ teaching experience and a master’s degree.

In his veto message, Owens said he opposed the bill because “adding a proscriptive academic obligation for principal licensure will serve to deter otherwise qualified individuals from this role and place an additional burden on our rural districts in drawing qualified personnel to their districts.”

Reversing Bill’s Intent

When first introduced, King’s bill would have made changes to the state’s two alternative teacher-certification programs and would have eliminated the teaching and master’s degree requirements from professional principal licensure. That would have enabled alternatively certified principals to qualify for professional principal licensure without a master’s degree. King, who was the prime House sponsor of the alternative certification legislation in 2004, believed the provision would have made it easier for talented principals with initial certification to earn full licensure.

The bill, however, was changed dramatically during the House Education Committee markup. State Rep. Angela Paccione (D-Fort Collins) proposed an amendment to require both traditional- and alternative-certification candidates to have at least three years of teaching experience and a master’s degree. The change essentially would have eliminated the alternative track, since alternatively certified principals would have to meet the same requirements as traditionally certified individuals. The only difference was that alternatively certified principals would be allowed to earn a master’s degree while on the job. The amendment passed on a 7-6 party-line vote.

King, who opposed the Paccione amendment, was not disappointed to see the final legislation vetoed by the governor.

“Had it been signed into law, this bill would have posed unwarranted barriers to hiring qualified principals from public charter schools, private schools, and other leadership fields,” King said. “Alternative certification enables us to bring in new perspectives and vitality into public education. This bill would have effectively closed that door.”

Requiring Education Background

The Colorado Education Association (CEA), the state’s largest teachers’ union, opposed the initial version of King’s bill and supported the Paccione amendment.

“A principal’s primary role is an instructional leader,” CEA spokesperson Deborah Fallin said. “We believe someone who has been doing something else [other than education] should have some grounding in education.”

State Sen. Sue Windels (D-Arvada), who sponsored the bill through the Senate after the Paccione amendment was adopted, said she believed the amendment would “make all [principals] end up in the same place with the same skills and the same qualities.”

Finding Fresh Ideas

King, however, opposed the one-size-fits-all mandates in the final version of his bill.

King noted alternative certification helps schools fill positions that might go unfilled because of a shortage of traditional candidates. According to the governor’s veto message, 90 percent of public school principals in the state are 55 years of age or older. A “narrow definition” of adequacy, Owens stated, would not guarantee high-quality principals but would impair districts’ ability to recruit strong candidates.

Krista Kafer ([email protected]) is a freelance writer in Denver, Colorado.