The Teacher: Childhood trauma informed Stewart’s legislative success

Santa Fe – She was 3 years old when her father died in a car crash and 17 when her mother committed suicide. In between those bookends of loss, she lived with the man she refers to as “my evil stepfather.”

He demeaned her, her two older sisters and her younger brother, and punished them with a belt when they didn’t meet his exacting standards. At night, he crept into her bedroom. “He would reach under my pajamas and start,” she says. Decades of therapy after a nervous breakdown have led Mimi Stewart, at age 70, to a place where she can talk about her childhood trauma.

Time to act

New Mexico, like most states, struggles to create an education system that can compete nationally and internationally and prepare our children to succeed in a global economy. My thirty years as an educator have taught me, just as importantly, the best of our schools can transform our children with positive experiences that lead to emotional well-being and resiliency. No child should be denied access to these best schools. We need every school to be a great school, and by learning from the best educational systems, we can make that happen. The National Conference of State Legislatures, as an outgrowth of a dynamic forum with education experts and state policymakers about the poor showing of the United States on the Programme for International Student Assessment, launched a study on the world’s top education systems. While U.S. students were scoring about the same on the test administered to 15-year-olds in 72 countries, students in other countries were improving, leaving the United States behind.

Senator calls on Martinez appointee as education chief to resign

State Sen. Linda Lopez is calling for the head of the New Mexico Public Education Department to resign over comments last month touting Manifest Destiny as one of the “fundamental principles of the country” — remarks that drew a scathing rebuke from Pueblo leaders. The department says Secretary-Designate Christopher Ruszkowski has reached out to tribal officials to express remorse after his comments at a charter school conference were reported in The Albuquerque Journal. But the remarks have still stirred outrage among indigenous New Mexicans who argue Ruszkowski demonstrated a lack of understanding about the history of westward expansion and the role of the education system in dispossessing Native Americans. The comments even drew the attention of The Washington Post this month. In a letter to Ruszkowski, Lopez wrote that he had still not explained what she described as “ill-advised comments.”

Legislative Roundup, Jan. 17, 2018

Days remaining in session: 29

Dream team: The State of the State address started Tuesday with a whistle and chanting. Advocates for immigrants unfurled banners calling for passage of the Dream Act and shouted slogans as Susana Martinez stepped to a lectern to begin the governor’s annual speech. Martinez, of course, does not have any sway over the act, which is federal legislation proposed to create a path to citizenship for young people who were brought to the United States as children without authorization. Felipe Rodriguez, 23, a student at The University of New Mexico, said the group chose to protest at Martinez’s final State of the State address because of the governor’s track record. “Susana Martinez has been a very anti-immigrant governor,” he said.

Mimi Stewart elected Senate majority whip

State Sen. Mimi Stewart will replace fellow Albuquerque Democrat Michael Padilla as Senate majority whip, elevating her to a leadership position for the first time after 23 years in the New Mexico Legislature. Senate Democrats, meeting behind closed doors Monday, chose Stewart to replace Padilla, who Senate Democrats voted to remove from the post because of an old sexual harassment case that took place before he was elected to the Senate. Stewart, a retired educator, said she believes she was chosen because of hard work. “You know I’m a teacher by trade,” she said. “I told my students, `I have eyes in the back of my head.’

Legislators approve new anti-harassment policy

Lawmakers voted to update the State Legislature’s sexual harassment policy, the first such change in a decade. The 15-0 Legislative Council vote came a day before the start of the 2018 legislative session. The council adopted the policy crafted by eight legislators who rewrote it at a time where many industries and organizations, including political institutions, are grappling with sexual harassment. The policy allows for an outside investigator to look into allegations of sexual harassment against legislators. It also calls for “outside counsel who is experienced in harassment matters” to determine in consultation with legislative leaders if a complaint merits an investigation.

Stopping our own nuclear threat

Last week, U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tennessee, called the Senate Foreign Relations Committee together to investigate the president’s ability to command the use of nuclear weapons. It is heartening to see leaders on both sides of the aisle recognize the need to reevaluate this dangerous and undemocratic policy. While President Donald Trump may extol the leadership qualities of dictators and despots around the globe, his job is to function within the confines of the democracy we live in, and he must not be given unchecked power to attack any nation with the catastrophically destructive force of nuclear weaponry. For us New Mexicans, the danger of nuclear weapons hits close to home. In 1945, in a desert just a short drive from where I am writing this in Albuquerque, the U.S. government detonated its first atomic bomb.

Does poorly educating students violate the NM constitution? A judge will decide

How New Mexico educates its children will be in the hands of a state judge soon as a landmark trial against the state Public Education Department wraps up. Over eight weeks, the trial has featured dozens of witnesses and numerous citations to academic studies and policy reports. But in the end, the trial before First Judicial District Judge Sarah Singleton in Santa Fe boiled down to dueling worldviews. The plaintiffs — the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) — cited education outcomes for low-income, Native American and English language learners as evidence that New Mexico does not meet its constitutional obligation to provide a sufficient education for all children. This story originally appeared at New Mexico In Depth and is reprinted with permission.

Up in smoke: Opportunities on climate, renewables shunned during Martinez administration

Last June, Gov. Susana Martinez joined incident commanders and U.S. Forest Service officials to update local residents on yet another forest fire. She had already declared a state of emergency and called in the state National Guard for the Dog Head Fire in the Manzano Mountains near Albuquerque. Since taking office five years earlier, Martinez had presided over similar meetings across New Mexico while various fires and millions of acres of forest burned. With global warming, the number and size of fires has increased and fire season has lengthened by about two months in the western United States. Even a 2005 report prepared by the state warned that New Mexico’s forests were vulnerable to “catastrophic” wildfires and massive diebacks.

Unexplained vetoes rile lawmakers

Gov. Susana Martinez on Wednesday vetoed six bills that cleared the Legislature with overwhelming support, rankling lawmakers who complained that she never explained any of her decisions. Martinez’s own tone was equally sharp when she called a Senate override of one of her vetoes a stunt, even though that challenge to her was initiated by a fellow Republican. But when it came to issuing veto messages, Martinez didn’t give legislators any idea of why she rejected bills ranging from an uncontroversial proposal that would have given local governments a new option to pay for expanding broadband networks to arcane changes in horse-racing regulations. Spokesmen for the governor did not respond Wednesday to repeated requests for comment. Related: Senate votes to override Martinez veto on teacher absences bill

The day before Martinez spiked the six bills, the Senate voted 34-7 across party lines to override her veto of a bill to let teachers use more sick days without being downgraded on their performance evaluation.