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.
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 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.
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.”
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.
Even the woman in charge of higher education in New Mexico didn’t have input on the governor’s veto of the entire higher education budget. Higher Education Department Secretary Barbara Damron said Gov. Susana Martinez did not consult with her before making the vetoes, according to the Albuquerque Journal. Damron made the remarks in a speech to the Economic Forum of Albuquerque this week. The governor vetoed the entire higher education budget, saying it was necessary to balance the budget, which became unbalanced when she vetoed a package that would have raised some taxes and fees. Martinez said the higher education budget could be solved in a special session.
More than a year after Albuquerque Public Schools denied her public records requests related to an incident involving her autistic son, Laura Gutierrez is taking the state’s biggest public school district to court. Her lawsuit, filed last month in Albuquerque’s state district court, alleges APS wrongly withheld public records responsive to requests she made in late 2015. She is asking for the school district to release the records and pay damages for violating the state’s Inspection of Public Records Act (IPRA). Under IPRA, public agencies can be fined up to $100 per day in damages for not fulfilling public records requests if the person who brings the suit can prove damages. “I have decisions I need to make as a parent, and without these records I can’t move forward,” Gutierrez said in an interview.
Gov. Susana Martinez’s recently announced changes to the state’s teacher evaluation system came from discussions between a panel of New Mexico educators and state Public Education Department officials. This is according to Chris Eide, the national director of state policy, advocacy and partnerships with Teach Plus. The Boston-based nonprofit, which focuses on teacher-driven education reform, launched an initiative in New Mexico last year to look at teacher evaluations and teacher preparation. Over the weekend, Martinez accepted two recommendations from the New Mexico Teach Plus task force. One allows teachers to use up to six absences without affecting the attendance portion of their state teacher evaluations.
After the Gold King Mine spill in 2015 contaminated the Animas River, farmers, local residents, businesses and the Navajo Nation filed claims against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Contractors with the agency caused the spill of mining waste into the river. At the time, claimants pegged their economic losses at $1.2 billion. According to the AP, which filed Freedom of Information Act requests to view the claims, the total is now $420 million, not $1.2 billion: A single law firm that originally filed claims totaling $900 million for a handful of New Mexico property owners told the AP it had lowered their claims to $120 million. It’s still uncertain whether the White House and Congress — both now controlled by the GOP — are willing to pay for any of the economic losses, even though Republicans were among the most vocal in demanding the EPA make good on the harm.
Objections by U.S. Senate Republicans ended talk that Hanna Skandera might join the Donald Trump administration, according to a report in Politico Thursday. The report, which led the outlet’s Morning Education tipsheet, said the New Mexico Public Education Department secretary’s support for the controversial Common Core standards were one reason Republicans were skeptical to confirm her as assistant secretary of the U.S. Department of Education. “I am focused on continuing the great progress we have started and will continue in New Mexico,” Skandera said in a statement to NM Political Report when asked about if she had any conversations about joining the Trump administration. “When education focuses on students and not politics, everyone wins.”
Skandera is the head of the governing board of Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), which produces a standardized test in public schools aligned with Common Core. Republicans have largely criticized Common Core standards, which the Barack Obama administration supported. Common Core standards’ roots came out of the George W. Bush-era No Child Left Behind Act.