Education plan could result in closure, takeover of some schools

Many New Mexico children have either just started their school year or are preparing to start soon. This month students will prepare for school, new books, new teachers and their respective dirty looks. The state Public Education Department (PED) rates schools with an A-F grading system to identify which need ones need improvement—and schools with persistently low grades could experience major overhauls. That’s causing alarm among some teachers, especially in rural communities. This week the U.S. Education Department officially accepted New Mexico’s education plan, which is required under a 2015 federal law—and includes provisions that could shut down or revamp schools in remote areas where schools are scarce to begin with.

Budget cuts hit teachers, students in classroom

Second grade teacher Billie Thurman-Helean is about to start her third year teaching at Maggie Cordova Elementary School in Rio Rancho. Her life dream was to teach, she said. “I’ve always wanted to do this,” she told NM Political Report. She didn’t realize, however, that she would pay for school supplies out of her own pocket. As a kid, she remembers bringing a backpack and lunch to school, and having school supplies  available there.

Does poorly educating students violate the NM constitution? A judge will decide

How New Mexico educates its children will be in the hands of a state judge soon as a landmark trial against the state Public Education Department wraps up. Over eight weeks, the trial has featured dozens of witnesses and numerous citations to academic studies and policy reports. But in the end, the trial before First Judicial District Judge Sarah Singleton in Santa Fe boiled down to dueling worldviews. The plaintiffs — the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) — cited education outcomes for low-income, Native American and English language learners as evidence that New Mexico does not meet its constitutional obligation to provide a sufficient education for all children. This story originally appeared at New Mexico In Depth and is reprinted with permission.

Las Cruces legislator cites budget, jobs crisis for why he’s running for governor

Joseph Cervantes is the fourth Democrat to declare a 2018 run for governor. An attorney with a background in architecture, Cervantes has served in the state legislature representing Las Cruces for 16 years, first in the House of Representatives before winning an election in the Senate in 2013. Cervantes is considered a moderate Democrat from his time in the Legislature. He even once attempted to oust then-Speaker Ben Lujan with a coalition of Republicans and some Democrats. NM Political Report caught up with Cervantes just days into his campaign office to speak about how he wants to approach the state’s highest political office.

AGs sue U.S. Education Department over delay of debt rule

New Mexico’s Attorney General signed onto a lawsuit against the head of the U.S. Department of Education over rescinding protections for students who borrow money for college. AG Hector Balderas is one of 19 attorneys general from around the country that sued Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos over her actions on the Borrower Defense Rule, an Obama-era rule aimed at protecting students who borrowed money from debt at colleges guilty of misconduct. The attorneys general are asking a court to order the Education Department to enforce the rule. The rule came, in large part, because of the collapse of Corinthian Colleges, a for-profit college whose students had an extremely high default rate on student loans. Heald College, one of the Corinthians College schools, was eventually fined nearly $30 million by the federal Department of Education for misleading statements about employment rates of graduates.

Heinrich, Udall slam Education Department’s civil rights division changes

New Mexico’s U.S. senators say that U.S. Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos does not support civil rights or oppose discrimination. Senators Martin Heinrich and Tom Udall, both Democrats, signed onto a letter to the secretary telling her “your actions belie your assurances” on these issues. The letter cited her ties to a prominent anti-LGBTQ group and her appointment of staff who oppose a 2011 Title IX Guidance on sexual assault.The two highlighted her ties to the Family Research Council, a Washington D.C. organization that the Southern Poverty Law Center calls an anti-LGBT extremist group, and contrasts her relationship with the group with testimony she gave in front of a Senate committee. “In testimony before the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, you attempted to distance yourself from your family’s giving to organizations such as the Family Research Council, which promote intolerant views of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and gender non-conforming Americans and others,” the senators wrote. “Yet, on June 15, 2017, the Family Research Council participated in an official event on engaging fathers in students’ education at the Department.”

The two also criticized DeVos’ Acting Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Candice Jackson.

Skandera to leave PED

New Mexico’s Secretary of Education will step down from her position later this month. That’s the report from the Albuquerque Journal Thursday morning, which spoke to Skandera. Skandera told the newspaper that she will leave her post on June 20, after more than six years on the job. Skandera has been the only head of the Public Education Department under Susana Martinez. In that time, Skandera has been a controversial figure, with teachers unions and Democrats voicing sharp criticisms of her priorities.

State college exchange program sees cuts amid budget troubles

State budget troubles are prompting the New Mexico Higher Education Department to make cuts to a program local students use to attend colleges in nearby states for programs not offered at home. New Mexico pays into the Western Interstate Commission on Higher Education (WICHE) Professional Student Exchange Program that allows local students to go to dentistry and veterinary schools outside of the state at a reduced rate. To qualify for the loan for service, students must sign a declaration of intent to return to and work in New Mexico once they finish school. Currently, 67 students from New Mexico benefit from the WICHE exchange program. By next fall, that number will drop by six students.

DeVos pick to head civil rights office once said she faced discrimination for being white

The new acting head of the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights once complained that she experienced discrimination because she is white. As an undergraduate studying calculus at Stanford University in the mid-1990s, Candice Jackson “gravitated” toward a section of the class that provided students with extra help on challenging problems, she wrote in a student publication. Then she learned that the section was reserved for minority students. “I am especially disappointed that the University encourages these and other discriminatory programs,” she wrote in the Stanford Review. “We need to allow each person to define his or her own achievements instead of assuming competence or incompetence based on race.”

State faces suit over absences hurting teachers’ evaluations

A teacher from a rural New Mexico school district is suing the state over its policy on teacher absences. The teacher says the Public Education Department’s policy of punishing teachers on evaluations after their third absence should be changed. PED has since amended that punishment to six school absences per school year. PED Secretary Hanna Skandera responded to the lawsuit with a very short prepared statement. “We received the lawsuit,” she said.