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.

Senators pare back proposed childhood ed agency

A bipartisan group of state senators on Monday balked at creating a new department to centralize early childhood education programs, stripping the proposed agency of about half of its responsibilities. Members of the Senate Education Committee voted 5-4 to amend Senate Bill 22, which would establish the centralized agency. The change would keep programs for 4-year-olds under the purview of the Public Education Department. The bill sponsor, Democratic Sen. Michael Padilla of Albuquerque, said the amendment hurts his proposal. “It defeats the ability to ensure consistency across the early childhood education spectrum,” he said.

Navajo Code Talkers project draws bipartisan support

A 94-year-old state senator’s dream to open a Navajo Code Talkers Museum and Veterans Center on Navajo land in McKinley County may finally become a reality with the help of a few of his friends. Senators from both political parties have agreed to provide some of their own allotment of capital outlay money for the project, Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, said Friday. “He’s the longest-serving member in the Senate, and this is a project he’s been working on for a long time,” Wirth said. Pinto has been a senator since 1977. “It’s such an amazing honor to serve with a World War II veteran and a Navajo Code Talker on top of that,” Wirth said.

Education department plans overhaul of school rating system

The New Mexico Public Education Department aims to scrap the state’s A-F grading system for public schools, which critics have said puts too much emphasis on student test scores. Under proposed changes to the state’s plan to comply with the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, the agency says it will replace an accountability system that identifies schools as failing with one that classifies them by the amount of state and federal support they require. “This is a shift in philosophy from seeing schools as failing to seeing a call to action,” said Tim Hand, deputy secretary of the education department. “This underscores how we see that our role at the Public Education Department is to lead with support.” The effort comes as Democratic state lawmakers have introduced two measures — Senate Bill 229 by Sen. Mimi Stewart and House Bill 639 by Rep. G. Andrés Romero — that would repeal a law creating the A-F grading system.

Democrats split on charter school cap in New Mexico

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s plan to cap charter school enrollment met a wave of opposition Monday, and at least one Democratic senator said he would break party ranks to oppose the initiative. The attempt to limit enrollment in charter schools is contained in wide-ranging Senate Bill 1, which has sponsors from both political parties. Critics of the bill include Sen. Bill O’Neill, a Democrat from Albuquerque and co-founder of a charter school in that city. The measure would limit charter schools statewide to 27,000 students for at least one year. Charter schools have nearly that many students now.

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.’