Sweeping charter school reform bill stalls in House committee

Democrats on the House Education Committee effectively killed an expansive charter school reform bill after two hours of testimony Wednesday, arguing that it was too complex and contained provisions that many charter school advocates oppose. “It’s more dead than less [dead],” Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, D-Albuquerque, a co-sponsor of the bill, said after the committee’s 7-6 vote along party lines to table House Bill 273. The bill would have called for “automatic closure” of low-performing charter schools. It also removed a cap on the number of charter schools that could open in any given year, gave high-performing charter schools the ability to streamline their renewal process and would have cut charter school funding by 25 percent over the course of several years. Ivey-Soto and fellow co-sponsor Rep. James Smith, R-Sandia Park, told the committee the measure would save money for the state and hold charter schools more accountable.

Senators halt proposal to revive state school board

Five Democrats joined four Republicans on Monday to block a bill that would have eliminated the job of Cabinet secretary of public education and resurrected a statewide board to oversee schools in New Mexico. The Senate Rules Committee voted 9-2 to table Senate Joint Resolution 2, a proposed constitutional amendment to create a 10-member school board that in turn would hire a secretary of education. In the existing system, the governor appoints someone to run the Public Education Department. Sen. Michael Padilla, D-Albuquerque, introduced the resolution, saying it would return power to school districts and would allow the state board to hire or fire a secretary of education at will. “If the individual [secretary] does a poor job, the state school board can take that individual out of the position,” Padilla told the committee.

Education chief pushes change in teacher evaluations

State Public Education Secretary Hanna Skandera said Monday she will push for legislation to reduce the amount of weight that student test scores play in teacher evaluations. Skandera’s announcement represents a step back — albeit a small one — from her long-running push to tie teacher effectiveness to student test scores. It received a mixed response from leaders of one state teachers’ union. Skandera said she is responding to input that the Public Education Department received during a statewide listening tour to solicit feedback on what the state can do to prepare for implementing the new federal Every Student Succeeds Act guidelines, which go into effect next summer. “We wanted to be responsive.

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.

Martinez praises Trump’s selection for Secretary of Education

Gov. Susana Martinez likes Donald Trump’s choice for Secretary of Education. Martinez wrote an op-ed in Investor’s Business Daily in which she praised the president-elect’s selection of the Michigan billionaire to head the federal department that oversees education. “She has extensive experience and an unquestionable commitment to our children. For nearly three decades, she has been on the front lines in dozens of state capitals, working with parents to promote school choice and accountability in the classroom,” Martinez wrote. “As our secretary of education, she’s going to continue that fight.”

Martinez also wrote that DeVos could help move toward “local control and school choice.”

DeVos is a former chair of the Michigan Republican Party and led the American Federation for Children, an organization that advocates for school choice.

Report: Skandera considered for Trump administration

New Mexico’s Public Education Department secretary may be part of Donald Trump’s incoming presidential administration. That’s according to Politico, which reported it Friday morning, citing unnamed sources. Politico reported that “Hanna Skandera is under consideration for education deputy secretary or undersecretary in the Trump administration.”

Billionaire Betsy DeVos is Trump’s pick for secretary of education and, like Skandera, is a proponent of Common Core. Skandera took over the governing board for the PARCC test in January, Politico noted. Before heading to New Mexico, Skandera was the deputy commissioner of education under then-Florida Governor Jeb Bush.

PED let superintendent’s license lapse before renewing it

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.

Charter schools accuse PED of hostility, favoritism

More than two dozen charter schools across the state accused the Public Education Department of directing “a general atmosphere of hostility” toward several state-authorized charter schools. Last month, the New Mexico Coalition for Charter Schools wrote a list of 20 detailed complaints against the PED’s Charter Schools Division coming from 29 charter schools across the state in a letter to the Public Education Commission, an elected statewide body that oversees state-authorized charter schools. “In a nutshell,” the letter reads, “The relationship between [the Charter Schools Division] and charter schools appears to have deteriorated significantly over the past year, and in numerous cases appears to be broken.”

Twenty charter schools signed onto the letter, though the Coalition says nine more have lodged complaints but didn’t want to go public “for fear of reprisal” from the PED. The list of complaints, which accuse PED of imposing burdensome regulations against charter schools, pits nearly one-third of the charter schools in the state against a state agency that has touted itself as favorable to nontraditional public education. The Coalition wrote the letter at the request of the Public Education Commission after first mentioning the problems at a March commission meeting.

Don Moya out at APS

Albuquerque Public Schools has let go of its former Chief Financial Officer Don Moya, according to the Albuquerque Journal. The newspaper reports that APS didn’t renew Moya’s contract earlier this month after his medical leave time expired. Moya seriously injured himself in a motorcycle incident last fall, breaking both of his legs. Moya’s relationship with the school district has been strained since last summer. Last August, Moya raised concerns about a potential school district contract with a Denver IT company whose then-chief operating officer had previously gotten fired from Denver Public Schools for taking kickbacks from companies.

Audit finds ‘serious shortcomings’ at PED

The New Mexico State Auditor’s Office announced Tuesday that a Public Education Department audit revealed more than 200 shortcomings. The State Auditor’s office gave PED about a month to come up with an action plan to correct what the Auditor’s office called “weaknesses.”

State Auditor Tim Keller said in a press release the issues his office found were not minor. “The problems that have been identified are far from technicalities, they are serious shortcomings in our state’s ability to ensure quality education to students across the state,” Keller said. Auditors uncovered mismanagement of public funds and a lack of background checks at some charter schools among the long list of problem areas within PED. According to the audit report, PED understated how much money was spent by more than $21 million.