At least 41 of New Mexico’s 89 school superintendents stood outside the state Capitol on a windy, bone-chilling Friday afternoon to deliver a message of desperation. The weather was rotten and they said their budgets are in the same condition. Six of the superintendents spoke publicly, and all of them said their districts have cut so much so fast to help resolve the state’s budget crisis that they are reeling. That puts at risk the goal of every kid getting a good education, they said. Veronica García, superintendent of the Santa Fe Public Schools, said Democrats who control both houses of the state Legislature and Republican Gov. Susana Martinez must come together in the spirit of compromise to save the schools and the children they serve.
The state Senate’s leading budget hawk challenged Gov. Susana Martinez on Thursday to reverse course and support proposals for raising taxes and fees or watch essential services get slashed even more. Sen. John Arthur Smith said any vetoes Martinez makes at this stage will force legislators to cut the budgets of public schools and health care as they follow the law to pass a balanced budget. “We’re out of places to find additional dollars,” Smith, D-Deming, said during a brief speech on the floor of the Senate. He spoke hours after the House of Representatives approved a $6.08 billion budget and then moved it to the Senate for consideration. The budget crafted by the Democrat-controlled House would increase state revenue by some $250 million with tax and fee increases.
On Tuesday a bill to fund early childhood education programs with two new taxes on energy and electricity producers failed to make it out of committee. During the Senate Conservation Committee meeting, Sen. Michael Padilla, D-Albuquerque, sought support for a bill that would create an early childhood education fund paid for by a one-hundredth percent oil and gas energy surtax and a one cent per kilowatt hour tax on electricity produced in New Mexico. The two revenue sources would generate more than $320 million annually, according to the fiscal impact report for Senate Bill 288. Once the meeting was opened for public comments, not one audience member spoke in support of the bill. But more than a dozen lobbyists and representatives of the oil and gas industry and utilities like PNM, El Paso Electric, Xcel Energy and Tri-State Generation and Transmission opposed it.
Delaying or freezing corporate income tax cuts and across-the-board budget cuts are two of the most popular proposals for bridging the state’s large budget deficit. That comes from a poll conducted by Public Policy Polling for NM Political Report. Respondents were asked to choose from a list of five options for balancing the budget. The options were “Delaying or freezing corporate income tax cuts,” “bringing back taxes on food and medicine,” “increasing the state gasoline tax,” “cutting education spending” and “enacting across-the-board spending cuts.”
After choosing their top choice, respondents were also asked to choose a second-best option from the same list. In both cases, respondents saw delaying incoming corporate income tax cuts delay and enacting across-the-board spending cuts as the two most popular choices.
Gov. Susana Martinez’s regular list of legislative priorities was joined by a number of public safety initiatives that confirmed that this year would be a session with a lot of tough on crime rhetoric. Martinez, a former prosecutor, spoke about the need to curb crime and spoke about how increased sentencing is the way to do that. She laid out this and two other issues—education and jobs—as priorities at the top of her speech, which she read off Teleprompters on Tuesday afternoon. She spoke passionately about the deaths of two police officers while in the line of duty, officers Nigel Benner of Rio Rancho and Dan Webster of Albuquerque. She said “they were heroes to strangers.”
Their widows were in attendance, guests of Martinez.
Stressing priorities and the state’s shaky energy revenue source, Gov. Susana Martinez proposed a budget with a $228 million increase in recurring state spending. That comes out to a 3.7 percent increase over the previous year’s budget. At a press conference in a downtown Albuquerque building that houses the state Corrections Department, Martinez said her proposed budget emphasizes “three things above all others”— education, public safety and jobs. “Keeping New Mexicans safe, reforming and improving public education, and creating jobs by diversifying our economy and helping small businesses grow,” she said. The proposal comes even as legislators warn about the effects of low oil prices that show no sign of increasing.
A report found that New Mexico is improving in several areas of education and the economy but struggles in child hunger and poverty. The 2015 New Mexico Progress Report, which was put together by New Mexico First, looked at four overall areas: Education, health, economy and water. Of those, New Mexico has seen improvement in some areas, while it is getting worse in others. While the state is seeing gains in household income and unemployment, poverty and child hunger continue to get worse. Still, New Mexico First President Heather Balas was optimistic about New Mexico’s direction.
The state Public Education Department is tweaking parts of its controversial teacher evaluation system. Mainly, school districts won’t need to use standardized tests to evaluate teachers who teach subjects that aren’t tested. New Mexico Political Report wrote about that problem earlier this summer. For that story, we profiled Nick Prior, a 26-year-old music teacher at Albuquerque’s Eisenhower Middle School. From our earlier report: This year, Prior scored just 112 out of 200 possible points on his state-mandated teacher evaluation, ranking him “minimally effective.” It’s also a dramatic drop from last year’s evaluation, when Prior scored a “highly effective” ranking.
A Santa Fe district court judge threw out a challenge to a contract for a controversial standardized test. The Washington D.C.-based nonprofit American Institutes for Research challenged the state’s decision to award a lucrative testing contract to education conglomerate Pearson. The contract, worth an estimated $1 billion over eight years, included writing and administering the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College Careers’ (PARCC) flagship test. Although most associate the term with the test, PARCC is a consortium of 12 states and the District of Columbia that were tasked with developing a new standardized test that abides by the Common Core State Standards Initiative. The PARCC test is projected to reach up to 10 million students across the consortium over the length of the contract.
A Santa Fe district court judge handed down fines to the state’s Public Education Department Thursday afternoon for failing to properly respond to public records requests from a teachers’ union. The state must pay nearly $500, plus attorneys fees, for failing to abide by the New Mexico Inspection of Public Records Act (IPRA). The main contention was the union’s records request centered around National Education Association New Mexico (NEA) attorney Jerry Todd Wertheim said was “the core of public debate over the teacher evaluation system.” The union asked for all public documents associated with a claim often repeated by PED Secretary Hanna Skandera and others over the years—that the previous state teacher evaluation system found more than 99 percent of the state’s teachers competent. They said this showed it was not an effective evaluation.