Criminalizing disability: Special-needs kids who don’t get help in school are winding up in jail

It was right after the fifth-period bell last October that Sebastian Montano lay face down in the grass outside Alamogordo High School, screaming for his mother, as two police officers pinned him to the ground and thrust a Taser in his back. Moments earlier, a staff member had called police after learning that the 16-year-old, a special needs student who’d recently dropped out, was now trespassing on school grounds. A shy teenager with light brown hair and big green eyes, Sebastian was well known to staff and students at Alamogordo High. He had a long and messy school history, including 16 documented run-ins with school police officers — all in relation to behaviors associated with his disabilities: autism spectrum disorder, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorder, PTSD, epilepsy, and ADHD. But he was also a boy who showed great promise.

Lawmakers point state to new educational future

It was a good year for education. Whether it was great depended on who you asked. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and legislative leaders, both Democratic and Republican, extoled investments New Mexico made in education Saturday as the 60-day session came to a close. 

“This is a Legislature that delivered a moonshot,” the governor nearly shouted during a post-session press conference in her Cabinet Room on the fourth floor of the Roundhouse. 

State lawmakers pumped an additional $500 million into the public schools budget and created a new early education department. Teachers and school administrators received a salary increase. And money for early childhood programs got a boost. 

But bills that emphasized multicultural, bilingual education and strengthened the community school model – ideas that some lawmakers and education advocates consider transformational – seemed destined to die, stuck in legislative committees. 

Then in the final hours of the 2019 legislative session, two of them were pulled from certain death and placed on the Senate floor Saturday morning. 

The Multicultural Education Framework, a centerpiece of the Transform Education NM coalition of Yazzie Martinez education lawsuit plaintiffs and community advocates, was defeated, going down on  on a 14-22 vote, with seven Democrats voting against the bill. 

In contrast, a bill that strengthens the community school model, cleared the Senate after contentious debate on a bipartisan vote of 24-15 and and is headed to Lujan Grisham’s desk. A priority of the governor, the community school model provides social supports for struggling students and makes schools a community hub. 

Sen. Mimi Stewart, a retired teacher who chairs the Legislative Education Study Committee, put up a spirited defense of the legislation. 

The community schools idea had been long studied by the LESC, she said.

House, Senate send identical education spending plans to the governor

The state Senate and House of Representatives on Wednesday approved identical plans for how New Mexico should spend a big boost in public education funding, sending the two measures to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham. Both Senate Bill 1 and House Bill 5 provide for an additional $450 million in public education spending next year, including $113 million aimed at providing support for at-risk students and an extra $38 million to increase teacher pay. While much of the content of the bills mirrored earlier versions debated last week, there was one difference: A one-time increase in annual base pay for teachers, tied to the level of their teaching license, will amount to $2,000 less than what was included in the previous bills. The original plan was to start those teachers at $42,000 (tier one license), $52,000 (tier two) and $62,000 (tier three), with subsequent raises so that over the next few years they would eventually start earning salaries closer to $46,000, $56,000 and $66,000. Instead, under the bills approved Wednesday, teachers would start off earning base pay of $40,000, $50,000 and $60,000, with no immediate raises following.

House passes sweeping education bill, with funding boost for adult learners

State lawmakers, facing an outcry over legislation defining “school-aged” students as those under the age of 22, voted Tuesday to provide a year of funding for programs that help adults get a high school education. The provision limiting the age of a public school student would cut off services for some older students who already have been left far behind, opponents argued, and could spell doom for schools like Gordon Bernell Charter School, which serves many students over 21 — including inmates in the Metropolitan Detention Center in Albuquerque. Sen. Mimi Stewart, a Democrat from Albuquerque and a sponsor of a broad Senate education package, Senate Bill 1, proposed keeping the student age limit in place but also setting aside a year’s worth of funds for schools hit by the change. The age limit provision was just a piece of sweeping education measures in both the House and Senate that would expand a summer program for low-income elementary school students, steer more money to schools serving at-risk students and raise the minimum salaries for teachers and principals. Each chamber passed its version of the legislation Tuesday with bipartisan support, and sent the bill on to the other side.

Lessons governor candidates can take from education reform

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.

Pearce: Fix education before expanding pre-K

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.

Outlook sobering for early education measure in Senate Finance Committee

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.

A ‘grand adventure in learning’ along the Rio Grande for students

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.

Ranking: New Mexico one of the worst states for teachers

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.

By not answering media questions, PED leaves public in the dark

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).