Top lawmakers on Monday rolled out a proposed $7 billion state budget that would include a whopping $600 million for public works projects around New Mexico as the government’s coffers swell with a windfall of revenue from an oil and gas boom. The Legislative Finance Committee’s proposed budget would mark almost an 11 percent increase in spending by the state. That is less than what Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has proposed in her own version of the state budget, which would raise spending by about 13 percent. But as lawmakers prepared to convene Tuesday for a 60-day legislative session, leaders indicated they are not far off from an agreement with the new governor when it comes to some spending on the issue that is sure to dominate the agenda: education. Faced not only with a judge’s order to come up with ways of improving education for many of the state’s most vulnerable students but also with a bright financial outlook in the short-term, legislators echoed Lujan Grisham’s own call to greatly increase funding for New Mexico schools.
The state decided not to move forward with proposed science standards that would have taken out references to evolution, climate change and the age of the earth. Instead, the state Public Education Department will adopt the Next Generation Science Standards in full, with some New Mexico-specific additions. The Albuquerque Journal first reported the news. The decision comes after intense criticism of the original proposed standards, culminating in an hours-long, overflow hearing during which every speaker opposed the changes. PED Secretary-designate Christopher Ruszkowski did not attend that meeting.
New Mexico is one of the worst states for teachers. That comes from WalletHub, which ranked each state as well as the District of Columbia. New Mexico ranked 44th. New Mexico ranked 50th, out of 51, when it came to drop out rate and lowest reading test scores and 49th in lowest math scores. The study also revealed that 84 percent of the state’s teachers have inadequate pensions.
The state Senate’s extraordinary effort to override a veto by Gov. Susana Martinez has landed with a thud in the House of Representatives. Two days after senators voted overwhelmingly to save a bill that would have allowed teachers to use more sick days without being penalized in their performance evaluation, no one has stepped forward in the House to call for a similar override vote. Note: This piece has been updated throughout. Majority Democrats are looking to Republicans who co-sponsored the bill to push for the override in the House. Related: Senate votes to override Martinez veto on teacher absences bill
A two-thirds majority of both the Senate and House is needed to override a veto.
A bill that would allow teachers to take up to 10 days of sick leave without it hurting their performance evaluations is headed to the desk of Gov. Susana Martinez for her consideration. The state Senate on Monday unanimously approved House Bill 241, which is subtitled “Teachers are human, too.” It amends the School Personnel Act so that using up to 10 days of personal leave or sick days in a school year would not negatively affect teachers’ performance reviews. “Teachers will do a better job teaching and will not get the students sick if they are healthy when they are in the classroom,” said Sen. Craig Brandt, R-Rio Rancho, one of the bill’s sponsors. “We should not punish them for doing their job.”
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.
Public documents show the superintendent of a school district in Sandoval County worked for four months in 2015 on an expired state educator license. But that superintendent, Allan Tapia of Bernalillo Municipal Schools, blames the state Public Education Department for not processing his license on time. “If they didn’t process it on their end, I didn’t have control over that,” he said in an interview. The documents, obtained through public records requests to the state by NM Political Report, show a 115-day gap between the expiration of Tapia’s administrative license and its renewal by the state Public Education Department last year. They also show the state’s renewal of Tapia’s administrative license came nearly four months after his previous license expired.
Albuquerque teachers punished for low scores earlier this year on state teacher evaluations need no longer worry—for now. A memo sent this week to principals across Albuquerque Public Schools says that “effective immediately” the district is suspending all teacher professional growth plans based on evaluations from the state’s NMTEACH program. Based on the New Mexico Public Education Department’s figures of the percentage of low scoring teachers and APS’ total amount of teachers, the pause affects more than 1,500 teachers in the state’s largest school district. APS made the decision one week after a Santa Fe District judge temporarily barred the PED from using scores from the state’s controversial teacher evaluations for school personnel decisions. A PED spokesman didn’t respond to a request to comment for this story.
Both New Mexico senators voted in favor of a No Child Left Behind replacement Wednesday, following unanimous support last week on the same bill from the state’s Congressional delegation. Democrats and teachers unions have widely praised the Every Student Succeeds Act for taking away federal oversight of accountability from standardized tests. Under No Child Left Behind, the federal government could withhold money from schools that scored low on the Adequate Yearly Progress reports, which were made from standardized test scores. The new bill, which cleared the House of Representatives last week, leaves this type of accountability measures to the states. “It gives states the decision on high stakes testing, which unfortunately in our state the governor wants,” Albuquerque Teachers Federation President Ellen Bernstein said in an interview.
A Las Vegas Optic investigation into whether a Mora superintendent forged his state educator administration credentials is prompting at least two outside investigations into the matter. Over the weekend, the newspaper ran a story it had been working on for five months concluding that Mora Independent Schools District Superintendent Charles E. Trujillo, in the story’s own words, “faked his credentials in order to qualify for the administrative license he received.” The discrepancies include Trujillo faking a Highlands University transcript to show that he had a Master’s Degree, lying that he was employed as an education administrator for seven years instead of two and a half years and exaggerating that he worked as an adjunct instructor at Luna Community College for six years instead of three years. The state Public Education Department (PED), according to the Optic story, gave Trujillo an administrative license based on his Master’s Degree, for having more than six years experience as an education administrator and more than six years experience as an instructor. All ended up being not true, according to the Optic.