Lujan Grisham’s choice of Education Secretary will send big message

In the coming days, governor-elect Michelle Lujan Grisham will take the first major step to fulfill her sweeping campaign promises on education – appointing a secretary to lead New Mexico’s troubled Public Education Department. Her choice will speak volumes – not only about her approach to education but also about her commitment to reform in a state that is primed for change. With a Democratic majority in both chambers of the Legislature, the governor-elect is in a position to address what many regard as New Mexico’s gravest problem: the fact that it sits at rock bottom in national rankings of student achievement. The state is under court order to fix a school funding system that was struck down as unconstitutional for its failure to provide adequate resources for at-risk students. So the choice of the new secretary will speak worlds about the degree to which Lujan Grisham intends to follow through on her pledge to “build a Pre-K-through-grade-12 education system that works for every single student and family.”

Hospital competition leaves kids in the lurch

The two pediatric heart doctors made for an odd couple at the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee: Bill Stein in his conservative gray suit and Jon Love with his blond ponytail, three earrings and shiny blue blazer – both testifying to their desire to work together. Their respective employers had been in open – at times cutthroat – competition for years. The result has been a health system in which very sick kids are more likely to be sent out of state than two miles down the road to the competitor. Stein, 42, who is employed by Presbyterian Healthcare Services, is the state’s sole pediatric cardiothoracic surgeon. Love, 56, is the lone pediatric interventional cardiologist at the University of New Mexico. Together, the specialists put forward a simple answer that pediatricians and parents of medically fragile children have been longing to hear: collaboration.

Oh Susana! How governor’s popularity eroded

In 2010, three Western states elected governors who immediately generated national buzz. Brian Sandoval, a Republican, was the first Latino elected governor of Nevada. John Hickenlooper, who campaigned as a Democratic centrist in the midst of a Tea Party wave, was elected in Colorado. And in New Mexico, Republican Susana Martinez became the nation’s first Latina governor. All three proved popular in their first terms and easily won re-election.

On her watch: Governor-driven understaffing keeps N.M.’s kids at risk

The Roundhouse, January 2011: Flanked by colorful bouquets, a pink and white corsage pinned to her dark blue suit, Gov. Susana Martinez invoked the blossoming of a new era for New Mexico in her first State of the State address. She was the nation’s first Latina governor, soon to be named one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people. She had a plan for New Mexico and intended to execute it with a prosecutor’s precision. Her message: New Mexico was in a state of financial crisis. “No more shell games,” she announced to applause.

New Mexico’s home visiting puzzle

Despite strong evidence that home visiting promotes healthy families and children, state officials have diverted millions of dollars from the program in order to fund child care assistance, according to documents obtained by Searchlight New Mexico. Since 2016, the Children, Youth and Families Department (CYFD) has moved a total of nearly $12 million earmarked for home visiting into child care assistance, saying the reallocation is necessary to meet the rising costs of child care. Among all the early childhood programs, child care assistance is the state flagship, helping tens of thousands of working New Mexico families care for their children. Officials shifted the funds from one pot to another because the state’s network of home-visiting providers, on the whole, failed to spend all the available money. “There’s a misconception out there that because we’re focused on childcare assistance, we’re not focused on home visiting, and that’s not true at all,” CYFD Secretary Monique Jacobson said.

Lawsuit: New Mexico is wrongly denying child care benefits

Five New Mexico residents are suing the Children, Youth and Families Department (CYFD), claiming the state is effectively cheating eligible low-income families out of money to pay for child care. According to the lawsuit, filed Tuesday in First Judicial District court in Santa Fe by the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty (CLP), CYFD is handing out child care assistance based on secretly formulated rules without clearly defined eligibility requirements, in violation of the state constitution. CLP brought the suit on behalf of five residents whose applications for child care assistance were denied. Olé, an Albuquerque-based community organizing group, is also a plaintiff. The complaint names Secretary Monique Jacobson, in her official capacity, as defendant.

Many grandparents raising kids locked out of state aid

ALBUQUERQUE — Joan Marentes knew her career in the Albuquerque Police Department was over the moment a state worker said she was ineligible for public assistance. Assigned to the Crimes Against Children Unit, Marentes was a decorated detective, named Officer of the Year in 2009 for her work keeping kids out of harm’s way. Often those same kids ended up placed in the care of grandparents or other relatives. Now, in an ironic twist, she had taken emergency custody of her own granddaughter after learning the child was being abused by her  parents. Like hundreds of other grandparents, Marentes trusted that the state would help her deal with the sudden financial stress of taking in a child.

The Census struggles to count all New Mexicans. Here’s why it matters

You won’t find James Ironmoccasin’s house on Google Maps. To get to his place on the northeastern edge of the Navajo Nation, head east from the 7-2-11 gas station on Highway 64 in Shiprock, take the sixth turn into “Indian Village,” a neighborhood of small, unnumbered houses on a winding, ungraded and nameless dirt lane, and follow for about a quarter mile, then turn at the dilapidated corral of horses. If he’s expecting you, Ironmoccasin, his jet-black hair parted to one side and a string of bright, traditional turquoise beads hanging around his neck, will be waiting to flag you down. “If you are kind of familiar with the area, and you’re good with directions, it’s OK,” he says with a chuckle. “I try to give the easier route.”

Though his family has lived on this square plot of land for the past 60 years, he says he can’t remember a time when any one of them — not his parents, not his sisters, not his brother, and certainly not himself — was counted in the decennial, or 10-year, U.S. census.

When trust counts: 2020 Census may leave fast-growing southern N.M. short

According to the state tourism bureau, Sunland Park is one of the last towns of the Old West, tucked below the commanding peak of Mt. Cristo Rey, a slender finger of southern New Mexico between El Paso and Juarez, Mexico. To the pride of city government, Sunland Park is one of the safest places in New Mexico, a fast-growing community of 16,500 and the largest border city in the state. In the dry, bureaucratic language of the U.S. Census Bureau, Sunland Park is simply one of the hardest-to-count tracts in the entire country. That characterization, however, is based on response rates from the 2010 census and may hardly still be applicable.

For contracts, New Mexico increasingly looks elsewhere: Analysis finds growing reliance on out-of-state vendors

Billions of taxpayer dollars have flowed out of state since 2013 due to government purchases that are not filled — or cannot be filled — by New Mexico companies, a Searchlight New Mexico analysis finds. Over the past five years, 43 cents of every dollar the state paid companies and consultants went outside New Mexico’s borders, according to Searchlight’s analysis. That price tag stands at $3.2 billion and is growing. According to the state’s own data, spending on outside vendors grew faster than spending on in-state vendors over the past five years of Gov. Susana Martinez’ administration. That dynamic is unlikely to change without a significant overhaul of the state’s economy, according to several experts interviewed for this article.