February 9, 2016

The test-based focus of the budget must be ended

Photo Credit: albertogp123 via Compfight cc

Betty Patterson is the President of the National Education Association–New Mexico

Students are at the center of our existence at the National Education Association–New Mexico. Student success is best supported when every student has a high-quality professional education team there for them.

NEA-NM President Betty Patterson. Courtesy Photo

NEA-NM President Betty Patterson. Courtesy Photo

House Bill 2 (HB2), the budget bill, as sent by the House to the Senate moves our state in the wrong direction.

An amendment to HB2 moves our state in the right direction by proposing to remove $8.5 million to fund the destructive and failed “merit pay” program of the Public Education Department (PED). The amendment converts those funds so they will be spent by districts to pay for a 16 % increase school employees will otherwise pay themselves for health insurance next year.

Not a raise, this proposal prevents the downward slide in take-home pay for school employees. New Mexico education employees will lose $8.3 million without this fix. Thankfully, Senator Pete Campos, D-Las Vegas, is bringing this amendment forward.

Reasonable people may support the theory of pay increases based primarily on the quality of work performed. If we can accurately measure teacher contribution to student success, some say, we should only reward those teachers who achieve highly.

The reality of how teacher evaluations and “merit pay” tied to it by the PED does not achieve that goal!

The evaluation system used to provide the basis for determining if a teacher “merits” a raise is so seriously flawed the PED is now prohibited by a court for implementing “consequences” such as the PED and HB2 now proposes. The court may well make permanent that injunction. Regardless, the PED is the only organization in our state proclaiming they have a fair basis for a “merit” pay system.

Continuing to deny most educators a raise in favor of rewarding a few based on a flawed system is wrong for the New Mexico students we strive to educate.

Too much focus on teacher evaluations tied to student scores on standardized tests warps school priorities. Continuing a system based on such tests, diminishes our ability to improve student success!

Good education inspires students’ natural curiosity, imagination, and desire to learn. Schools that nurture these values today are growing New Mexico’s future inventors, thinkers, artists and leaders.

Opportunity for all New Mexico students means teacher pay that attracts and helps retain the best people for the job.  The same is true for other education professionals here in New Mexico—none of whom are eligible for the “merit” pay program.

Our state economy is in the pits, so a hard-earned pay raise is not likely. Low pay and unfair financial awards to only a few educators are driving quality teachers and other employees away from working with the schools. The Legislature can help cover insurance cost increases.

We ask New Mexicans who care first and foremost as we do about our students, to support this budget amendment.