Susana Martinez during the 2016 State of the State Address. Photo Credit: Andy Lyman.

N.M. high school graduation rate up to 71%

New Mexico’s high school graduation rate rose to 71 percent in 2016, the highest percentage since the state began tracking four-year rates in 2008, Gov. Susana Martinez announced Monday. The rate jumped 2½ points from the previous year and increased in 48 of the state’s 89 school districts in 2016, including Albuquerque, Las Cruces, Rio Rancho and Santa Fe. “With more students graduating high school than ever before, New Mexico is better preparing our kids to enter the workforce, college and beyond,” Martinez said at a news conference at the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce. The governor used the occasion to again push her plan to end the practice of so-called social promotion — moving students forward to the next grade — for third graders who cannot read proficiently. The graduation rate for Santa Fe Public Schools in 2016 was 71 percent, up from 66.8 percent for the previous year.

Albuquerque Public Schools

Lawmakers look at slicing APS into smaller districts

Near the end of his announcement for mayor last weekend, Albuquerque City Councilor Dan Lewis took a shot at the city’s public school district, saying it needed “radical repair.”

“I believe now is the time to deconstruct this large unaccountable school district and replace it with smaller, more accountable school districts,” Lewis said at the business incubator ABQ Fat Pipe, which is located in the old Albuquerque High School building. “As your mayor, what I’ll do is lead the charge to fundamentally change education in our city.”

With more than 95,000 students in the school system, APS ranks as the 31st largest public school district in the nation—outsizing the public school systems in bigger cities like Detroit, San Francisco and Boston. Lewis is making the idea of breaking up the school district a part of his mayoral platform. To do so requires action from the state legislature. State Rep. David Adkins, R-Albuquerque, could be the lawmaker that takes on the issue this legislative session, which starts next week.

Gov. Susana Martinez during her State of the State Address in 2016. Photo Credit: Andy Lyman.

Martinez praises Trump’s selection for Secretary of Education

Gov. Susana Martinez likes Donald Trump’s choice for Secretary of Education. Martinez wrote an op-ed in Investor’s Business Daily in which she praised the president-elect’s selection of the Michigan billionaire to head the federal department that oversees education. “She has extensive experience and an unquestionable commitment to our children. For nearly three decades, she has been on the front lines in dozens of state capitals, working with parents to promote school choice and accountability in the classroom,” Martinez wrote. “As our secretary of education, she’s going to continue that fight.”

Martinez also wrote that DeVos could help move toward “local control and school choice.”

DeVos is a former chair of the Michigan Republican Party and led the American Federation for Children, an organization that advocates for school choice.

Oil rig in southeast New Mexico.Margaret Wright

Land Commissioner to pitch expanding drilling to fund early childhood education to ALEC

New Mexico’s Commissioner of Public Lands is slated to speak Friday with a group of conservative-minded state lawmakers in Washington D.C. about his proposal to transfer federal mineral rights on private lands to the state. Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn is also planning to meet with members of Congress in order to urge them to approve the transfer, according to spokeswoman Emily Strickler. In an email to NM Political Report, Strickler said Dunn is promoting his Early Childhood Education Land Grant Act to state lawmakers at an American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) policy summit. Related: BLM finalizes rule to limit methane emissions

“The group Commissioner is presenting to at ALEC would not be voting on this legislation, but may be interested in using the legislation as a model for legislation in their states,” Strickler wrote. “Also, Commissioner will be meeting with New Mexico’s congressional delegation while in D.C. to discuss this legislation because it needs congressional approval.”

ALEC members use model legislation to spread laws throughout states, with the most high-profile example perhaps the so-called “Stand Your Ground” laws that are in place in several states.

Laura Gutierrez, center, speaks at a January 2016 press conference in Albuquerque. Her son Michael Bruening is pictured second from right.

AG says APS violated open records law. Now they’re still denying a mother the documents

For more than a year, Laura Gutierrez has been at standstill in a dispute with the state’s largest public school district. Gutierrez is seeking records from an internal investigation of an Albuquerque Public Schools police officer that came after she alleged the officer tased her son during the fall of 2014. While APS handed over a memo stating that the investigation cleared the officer of any wrongdoing, it also withheld releasing supporting documents like a field investigator’s supplemental report, witness statements and a forensic interview conducted with Gutierrez’s son, Michael Bruening. “I should be able to know what my son said in the interview,” Gutierrez, who formerly went by the name Laura Bruening, told NM Political Report. Gregory Williams, an Albuquerque attorney and president of the pro-transparency New Mexico Foundation for Open Government, agrees.

UNM

UNM Pres won’t be back after school year

The president of the University of New Mexico won’t be back after the current school year ends in May of 2017. UNM announced that Robert Frank won’t seek a second term as president of the university in a press release sent Friday afternoon, announcing his final day would be May 31, 2017, when his current contract ends. “For personal and institutional reasons, I decided that it was best to let the Regents know of my intentions. By announcing my decision now, we can gear up to move vigorously ahead to finish what we’ve started,” Frank said in a statement. “It will allow for a thoughtful, well-planned transition that will keep UNM making steady progress.

Children at school

NM ranked near the bottom for underprivileged children

Another study found that New Mexico is not a great place for underprivileged children. This time, a Wallethub study found New Mexico is the fourth-worst state for underprivileged children when looking at 16 different metrics. The study also included the District of Columbia, which means New Mexico ranked 47th. New Mexico ranked 50th in the percentage of children living in households that are below the poverty line and 50th in the rate of children who are “food insecure.” The USDA defines food insecurity as “a household-level economic and social condition of limited or uncertain access to adequate food.”

New Mexico ranked in the top-half of the rankings in three categories—ranking 15th in the percentage of children in foster care (0.46 percent), 25th in Economic Mobility (8.97 percent) and 18th in the infant mortality rate (5.41 deaths per 1,000 births). Still, the state ranked in the bottom five in seven categories.

Charter school suspends exec accused of fraud

La Promesa Charter School in Albuquerque suspended an executive accused of fraudulently charging the school for personal services. The Albuquerque Journal first reported the news Tuesday night that the school suspended Analee Maestas, the executive director. Maestas also is the vice president of the Albuquerque Public Schools Board of Education and was silent until tonight on the allegations outlined by a report by State Auditor Tim Keller last week. Her only statement tonight, however, was to tell the Journal she took the allegations seriously and that she has an attorney. Maestas received reimbursement from the publicly-funded charter school for an air duct cleaning that appears to have been done on her home.

State Auditor Tim Keller at a press conference.
Photo by Andy Lyman

State Auditor: Charter school exec paid for cleaning with public funds

A review by the State Auditor found an Albuquerque charter school’s executive altered a receipt to receive a reimbursement from the school for cleaning services performed on her home. The investigation prompted a referral to prosecutors for multiple potential crimes. The State Auditor looked into the allegations, first raised in the media earlier this year, over the actions of Analee Maestas, the Executive Director of La Promesa Charter School. Maestas also is the Vice President of the Albuquerque Public Schools Board of Education. “The timeline of events indicate that the Executive Director used school funds to pay for work completed at her home,” State Auditor Tim Keller said in a statement.

Jason Martinez via LinkedIn

Ex-APS official not guilty of child sex abuse

A jury in Denver found a former Albuquerque Public Schools deputy superintendent not guilty on child sexual assault charges. The jury found Jason Martinez not guilty on four counts in all. Two were for sexual assault on a child by a person in a position of trust and the other two were for sexual assault on a child with a pattern of abuse. Martinez faced those charges while working at APS last year. Martinez did not undergo a background check required of all school personnel before he abruptly resigned last summer after just two months on the job.