Kids get a leg up on college, and life, at King’s Colorado Early Colleges

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.)

William Mutch, in Washington in January for the presidential inauguration.

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.

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