Funding issues put pre-K providers at odds while young children miss out on early education

ANTHONY — A tall chain-link fence splits the preschool campus behind Anthony Elementary in southern New Mexico: federally funded classrooms on one side, state-funded classrooms on the other. The fence serves as a literal and symbolic divide segregating two sets of classrooms outfitted with the same child-size tables, chairs and toys; two sets of highly trained teachers; two separate playgrounds — and a bitter competition for 4-year-old children. As New Mexico has expanded early education for toddlers over the past decade, the state has created a system that bars providers from mixing state and federal funds in the same classroom. It’s a policy – not a law – that effectively separates kids into rival programs, often divided by income. Head Start serves the lowest income families in New Mexico; the state programs serve families from a range of income levels.

Ex-APS superintendent Valentino gets a new job

A disgraced former Albuquerque Public Schools superintendent got a new job in education, this time in Oregon. Portland Public Schools hired Luis Valentino to help guide academic strategy on a three-month contract, according to The Oregonian. Valentino was expected to officially sign his contract Monday. Valentino resigned from APS just two months into his job, after NM Political Report revealed he hired an Assistant Superintendent, Jason Martinez, without conducting a background check. NM Political Report found out that Martinez was facing trial for four felonies related to sexual abuse of a child.

APS joins backlash against PED’s science standards changes

The state’s largest school district criticized new proposed science standards by the Public Education Department. The Albuquerque Public School board voted 5-1 to send a letter disapproving of the changes, which included removing specific references to increasing global temperatures and the Earth’s age, to the state Public Education Department. At issue are the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). So far, 18 states and the District of Columbia have adopted the 2013 standards. PED proposed adopting most of the standards—but with some key changes.

APS facing federal scrutiny for handling of disabled student

The federal government is investigating alleged discrimination by Albuquerque Public Schools against a student with a disability. The claim involves Michael Bruening, a 16-year-old autistic student who last saw an APS classroom in May 2015, according to his mother, Laura Gutierrez. The school district placed Bruening on homebound instruction, or education at home, but according to Gutierrez hasn’t done enough to support his educational development. Gutierrez, who said she does the bulk of instructing her son now, estimates he’s only attained education levels around the 6th or 7th grade. “I can’t teach him without him blowing up,” she said in a recent interview.

APS board member resigns amid embezzlement, fraud allegations

Embattled Albuquerque Public Schools board member Analee Maestas resigned Tuesday. Maestas is facing charges for alleged fraud and embezzlement from a charter school she founded. This comes two weeks after Attorney General Hector Balderas formally demanded that Maestas resign. “I am pleased that that she responded to our legal demand by resigning and our office will continue to use our legal resources to protect the school children of New Mexico,” Balderas said in a statement. The questions came after KRQE-TV looked into an alleged doctored receipt for a relatively small amount of money.

City contractors give to ABQ mayoral candidates

Employees of companies that do business with the city, and a few of those companies themselves, donated more than $74,000 to Albuquerque mayoral candidates through the end of March, an analysis by New Mexico In Depth found. That’s more than twice the amount the city found in an official report submitted last week, which was required within 48 hours of the latest campaign finance deadline. In 2007, Albuquerque voters approved a ban on corporate contributions and contributions from city contractors. But a 2013 lawsuit overturned those bans. This story originally appeared at New Mexico In Depth and is reprinted with permission.

Turnout still low, but up in Albuquerque school board election

Yesterday Albuquerque voters turned out in (relatively) big numbers for the Albuquerque Public Schools Board election. In some districts of the city, voter turnout was nearly twice what it was  in the 2013 election, the last time the same districts were up for grabs. Turnout ended at 6.6 percent of eligible voters for APS races. None of the school board races were particularly close, with all four winners clearing 50 percent in races with between four and six candidates. In District 1, incumbent Lorenzo Garcia won with 3,221 votes in the unofficial results, which came to 65.08 percent of the vote.

Martinez signs budget-balancing measures

Gov. Susana Martinez signed three bills Tuesday to balance the state’s budget, taking about $46 million from the reserves of public schools. But she vetoed cuts to an economic development program and various accounts in New Mexico government. The bills could raise $190 million for the state’s general fund, closing a deficit that was projected to total about $80 million. The measures also will replenish government reserves, though not nearly to the extent of plans proposed in early January by legislative staff and the governor’s own administration. The package will leave the state’s cash reserves at 1.8 percent, rather than nearly 3 percent as previously proposed.

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.

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.