Lujan Grisham’s choice of Education Secretary will send big message

In the coming days, governor-elect Michelle Lujan Grisham will take the first major step to fulfill her sweeping campaign promises on education – appointing a secretary to lead New Mexico’s troubled Public Education Department. Her choice will speak volumes – not only about her approach to education but also about her commitment to reform in a state that is primed for change. With a Democratic majority in both chambers of the Legislature, the governor-elect is in a position to address what many regard as New Mexico’s gravest problem: the fact that it sits at rock bottom in national rankings of student achievement. The state is under court order to fix a school funding system that was struck down as unconstitutional for its failure to provide adequate resources for at-risk students. So the choice of the new secretary will speak worlds about the degree to which Lujan Grisham intends to follow through on her pledge to “build a Pre-K-through-grade-12 education system that works for every single student and family.”

Budget cuts hit teachers, students in classroom

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.

Santa Fe to have half-day for Roundhouse rally against education cuts

Santa Fe Public Schools will have a half-day today, similar to a “snow day” for students. The projected high today is 70 degrees, so it isn’t for snow. Instead, it’s for a day of action for teachers, parents and students to show opposition to further school budget cuts. Santa Fe Public Schools Superintendent Veronica García announced the decision Wednesday afternoon. Related: Unexplained vetoes rile lawmakers

The governor’s office wasn’t happy, and a spokesman called the plan “despicable,” according to the Santa Fe New Mexican.

Supers’ plea to lawmakers: Save schools from further cuts

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.

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.

House scales back cuts to school budgets

The state House of Representatives agreed Monday evening to soften the financial blow to New Mexico’s public schools. With little discussion, House members voted to scale back cuts for districts and charter schools from a total of $50 million to about $38 million during the next five months. The cuts would be a big part of balancing the state’s budget. Proposed by Rep. Patty Lundstrom, D-Gallup, the change ensures that each district or charter still has cash reserves of at least 4 percent of its budget. Those beneath 4 percent in reserves would not face cuts.

After onslaught of ads, Dems target PAC for shaky claims

New Mexico Democrats are at war with a political action committee tied to Gov. Susana Martinez that is spouting a seemingly endless stream of negative, unfactual ads and mailers. The PAC, Advance New Mexico Now, is using a lot of resources against state Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez of Belen, a longtime Martinez nemesis who has led the Senate to oppose many of her core policies. Its most recent ad and mailer show the wife of a slain Rio Rancho police officer Gregg “Nigel” Benner officer claiming Sanchez was “cold and dismissive” when she met him and told him to support tough-on-crime laws. Sanchez, who faces a tough reelection against Republican Gregory Baca, said this meeting actually never happened. “I have never met the widow of Rio Rancho police officer Benner, not once,” Sanchez said Wednesday in a prepared statement.

NM’s not alright for children: Again ranks 49th for child well-being

New Mexico is “falling behind” on some key indicators according to a new report released this week. The annual KIDS COUNT report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation found that New Mexico ranks 50th in education and 49th in overall child well-being—again at or near the bottom of the list on key indicators for the state. New Mexico has ranked at or near the bottom on education for years. The number of eighth graders not proficient in math in 2015 worsened since 2013, while the number of high school students not graduating on time in 2012-2013 worsened since 2011-2012. New Mexico still sees 30 percent of children living in poverty, which ranks 48th.

One in ten New Mexico children have or had a parent in jail

One in every ten children in New Mexico have at least one parent incarcerated at some point in their lifetime, according to a recent report. That’s the third-highest rate in the nation and just one of three states with a rate in double digits. In raw numbers, this is 52,000 children throughout the state. The findings came from a new Kids Count report called “A Shared Sentence: The Devastating Toll of Parental Incarceration on Kids, Families and Communities.”

New Mexico Voices for Children executive director Veronica C. Garcia, Ed.D., explained the reasons why this is detrimental to the youth of the state. “Often their families lack the financial resources to cover basic needs such as food and housing.

Three strikes expansion moves on from Senate panel

After an emotional debate, three strikes legislation cleared the Senate Public Affairs Committee on a 7-2 vote Saturday. Sponsored by Rep. Paul Pacheco, R-Albuquerque, the bill adds a number of violent crime felonies to the state’s existing “three strikes” law, which mandates life imprisonment for people who are convicted three times of certain felonies. The bill is known as “Lilly’s Law,” named after 4-year-old Lilly Garcia, who was shot and killed last fall during a road rage incident in Albuquerque. Lilly’s parents, Alan and Veronica Garcia, acted as expert witnesses for the bill. Pacheco acknowledged that penalties in his bill bill aren’t “perfectly matched” to the person who killed Lilly Garcia, whose previous crimes would not fall under the current or Pacheco’s expanded three strikes law.