When Gov. Susana Martinez was sworn into office nearly eight years ago, she had this to say about educating children in New Mexico: “Nothing we do is more indispensable to our future well-being or will receive more attention from my administration than guaranteeing our children a quality education.”
New Mexico had received an “F” for K-12 achievement on a national education grading report. Fast forward eight years. As she winds down the final year of her second term, New Mexico earned a “D-” for K-12 achievement from Education Week’s Quality Counts report — and our overall grade actually sunk from a C to a D, dropping from 32nd to 50th out of the 50 states and the District of Columbia. There’s more to learn about that progress — or lack thereof — in trying to improve education in New Mexico, other than “it’s hard.” Turning around a system as large as public education is like turning an aircraft carrier. It’s going to take a lot of pushing and it won’t turn on a dime.
New Mexico In Depth is speaking with the candidates for New Mexico governor on the issues of early childhood, child wellbeing and education. Steve Pearce of Hobbs represents southern New Mexico in Congress and is the sole Republican nominee. This Q&A has been edited for length and clarity. Sylvia Ulloa: What would early childhood education look like in a Pearce administration. And, if you are supportive of those programs, how would you expand them to smaller communities? Steve Pearce: Before even talking about early childhood, I think it’s essential that we get an understanding of where the state is.
Early childhood education proponents are proclaiming a big win now that the House of Representatives has approved a measure to pull more funds from the state’s $17.5 billion Land Grant Permanent Fund to pay for prekindergarten programs.
But House Joint Resolution 1, as the measure is known, will soon have to navigate its way through the choppy waters of the Senate Finance Committee before it goes to the full Senate for debate and a vote. And the head of that committee, Sen. John Arthur Smith of Deming, made it clear Wednesday the odds aren’t good. “Based on history, it’s probably a long shot it will get through,” said Smith, a conservative Democrat who has long opposed any efforts to draw money from the Land Grant Permanent Fund. He is not alone. A poll of seven of the 11 members of that committee, Democrats and Republicans alike, suggests it won’t be an easy sail.
On a chilly, late-November morning, commuters rumble across the bridge over the Rio Grande on Avenida César Chávez in Albuquerque. Near the river below, two students from the South Valley Academy demonstrate how to measure groundwater levels. Alberto Martinez lowers the aptly-named beeper tape into a vertical pipe in the ground and cranks the reel. When the weighted end of the cable hits water, it beeps. Lynette Diaz records the depth at which it hits groundwater—211 centimeters if you’re curious—and the two head to the next station.
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.
As reporters, we have a lot of questions about the state of education here in New Mexico. Most people have strong opinions, and sometimes fiery debates can obscure the deeper issue of why New Mexico’s students aren’t faring as well as they should. Last week we published stories about education in New Mexico leading up to the start of the school year. We wanted to cut through the rhetoric and understand where schools and students are succeeding and where more work is needed. Unfortunately, those stories about education were missing one significant voice—the state’s Public Education Department (PED).
Second grade teacher Billie Thurman-Helean is about to start her third year teaching at Maggie Cordova Elementary School in Rio Rancho. Her life dream was to teach, she said. “I’ve always wanted to do this,” she told NM Political Report. She didn’t realize, however, that she would pay for school supplies out of her own pocket. As a kid, she remembers bringing a backpack and lunch to school, and having school supplies available there.
As we reported on Friday, Gov. Susana Martinez vetoed the Next Generation Science Standards Act. In her message, she wrote that “the Public Education Department has already been working diligently to route the standards through the appropriate vetting process.” The governor also argued the standards don’t belong in statute because it would “make it more difficult to update science standards in response to scientific advancement in the future.”
As Matt Grubs wrote in the Santa Fe Reporter, that bill would have required the state to adopt updated, nationally-vetted benchmarks for teaching science in public schools. As Grubs wrote last week:
Supporters, like bill sponsor Rep. Andrés Romero, D-Albuquerque, agree that it’s better to let the PED change standards administratively. But no one from the state’s education agency has explained the delay in putting the NGSS into place. In 18 other states and Washington, DC, the most controversial issues surrounding Next Gen adoption have been human-caused climate change and the theory of evolution.
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.
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.