DENVER (AP) – A new Denver vocational school that teaches software development, sometimes to students who never finished high school, was the focus of a campaign stop Monday by Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob Beauprez and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.
Beauprez has used the SeedPaths school as an example of what he calls overregulation that stand in the way of job creation because the state’s Department of Higher Education pressed the company to get licensed, pay fees, and get bonded. That, Beauprez has argued, threatened the school ability to stay open.
But state education officials counter that the goal is to protect students and their investments so vocational schools don’t defraud them.
“I’m actually quite surprised, honestly, to hear that they thought we were trying to put them out business because that really couldn’t be further from the truth,” said Lorna Candler, director of the higher education’s Division of Private Occupational Schools.
Candler said that SeedPaths now carries the state minimum bond of $5,000 for the year, and they’ve paid a $1,750 licensing feels. Schools like it also have to pay a quarterly fee of $3.50 per student.
She said that when the state approached SeedPaths in February, they gave the company founder, Jeff Macco, six months to comply but never threatened to shut down the school.
“I think we tried to convey to him clearly that we were really impressed with the innovative and entrepreneurial model that he had introduced and that we wanted to make the transition as seamless as possible,” she said.
Macco said his school has a proven record. Ninety-five percent of graduates find a job within 90 days, he said.
Christie has been campaigning for Republican candidates nationwide in his role as head of the Republican Governors Association. His Monday visit is the third time he’s been to Colorado campaigning for Beauprez since July.
With two weeks left before the election, polls continue to show a close race between Beauprez and Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper.
Beauprez said that the school’s experience with the state shows that government “was an anchor, not an enabler.”
“If the law is part of the anchor, part of the penalty, part of what’s holding people back, then let’s fix it,” Beauprez said at the school, but did not offer specifics on what kind of oversight, if any, vocational schools should have. However, he said he wants an audit of state regulations, with input from entrepreneurs like Macco, about where government is a barrier.
Hickenlooper, for his part, has argued that his administration has done just that, with an initiative called “Pits and Peeves” aimed at modifying or repealing unnecessary regulations.
New Jersey has similar regulations over private vocational schools as Colorado. Christie said he’s tried to fix that, but that Democrats who control the New Jersey Legislature haven’t budged.
“This is just one of those where we haven’t been able to agree,” he said. “I consider this a shortcoming of what I’ve been trying to do.”
Hickenlooper’s campaign said regulation over vocational schools is necessary.
“Coloradans should have the opportunity to attend any occupational school and get a quality education with the assurance that the investment in their future is protected,” said Eddie Stern, Hickenlooper’s campaign spokesman.
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