Proposed legislation would provide tax deduction for teachers

School supply drives are a regular sight in the weeks leading up to school starting every August. It is not just students’ parents who buy pencils, paper and protractors; teachers, many times, spend hundreds of dollars to keep their classrooms stocked for the school year. One proposed bill in this year’s legislative session seeks to help curb that expense. State Sen. Craig Brandt, R-Rio Rancho, pre-filed a bill that would help offset the expense by allowing teachers who buy school supplies to get a tax deduction of up to $500 for the purchase if the bill is approved during the 2023 legislative session. Marsella Duarte, an Albuquerque kindergarten teacher, supports the bill and said she has spent more than $500 on school supplies for her class.

Governor cites universal free school meals as legislative priority

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham spoke at the 5th annual Bloomberg American Health Summit in Philadelphia Tuesday where she said “in New Mexico, starting right now, no one pays for a meal in school.”

The statement was said to a roomful of applause, however it is not accurate. “Free school lunches for all New Mexico K-12 students will be part of the governor’s agenda that she will pursue in the upcoming legislative session,” spokeswoman Nora Meyers Sackett said. “For the past two school years, federal funding waivers enabled all students to eat for free – the governor’s initiative will ensure that every New Mexico student has access to free and healthy, high quality school meals by covering the price of breakfast and lunch for tens of thousands of students that currently do not qualify for free or reduced-price meals.”

As the details have not been made public, Albuquerque Public Schools spokeswoman Monica Armenta said that APS “supports programs intended to cover meal costs for all students.”

APS currently has about 45,000 students of about 89,000 students who qualify for free or reduced meals, Armenta said. Statewide, about 75 percent of students qualify for free school meals, according to Public School Review. The 2023 legislative session begins Jan.

New Mexico educators demand changes in classrooms

About 500 teachers and education activists marched Sunday outside the Roundhouse to demand better pay, smaller class sizes and better classroom results. Participants carried placards that read “Teachers Need Good Pay to Stay” and “No Teachers No Future” at the noon rally, organized by the American Federation of Teachers New Mexico and the National Education Association-New Mexico. Julie Wojtko, a teacher and an advanced education services facilitator at Arrowhead Park Early College High School in Las Cruces, came to the rally with her 11-year-old son, Aiden. “I’m here because teachers and students are more exhausted than ever, and we need the governor and our legislators’ help to reduce our class sizes [and] to increase our wages to reflect the work that we’ve been putting in during the pandemic,” said Wojtko, 41. She said supported Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s proposal to increase teachers’ wages by 7 percent this year, given how much her health insurance costs have risen recently.

Lawmakers renew effort to alter practice of diverting federal aid to rural schools

New Mexico for years has taken a large share of federal education aid intended for rural schools that lie in areas with large parcels of public and tribal lands and has distributed it to other districts, including urban ones. Legislation that would have undone the long-standing practice quietly died last year. State lawmakers have renewed the effort with more force in the current legislative session, introducing at least four bills designed to make up for tens of millions of dollars in federal Impact Aid diverted each year from rural districts, including many that serve Native American students. “It’s an issue of fairness,” said House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, who co-sponsored one of the bills. While New Mexico funds public school districts through a formula based on student numbers using money from several sources — including oil and gas revenues — school districts in many states heavily rely on property taxes.

House OKs bill to revamp teacher evaluation system

For years many educators, public education supporters and teacher union representatives have said New Mexico’s teacher evaluation system is punitive and unfair. But immediately after taking office in early January, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed an executive order requiring the Public Education Department to retool that system. On Monday night, the House of Representatives took a step toward making that goal a reality when it voted 52-14 to give a “do pass” recommendation to House Bill 212, which would rework measures currently in place. While some proposed changes seem cosmetic, such as having four different evaluation levels rather than the current five, defining the best teachers as “distinguished” rather than “exemplary,” others are more significant. For example, House Bill 212 reduces the percentage of student achievement scores used in the ratings, to 15 percent from 35 percent.

Advocates in education lawsuit say lawmakers’ budget falls short

An advocate for one of the plaintiffs in the landmark court case mandating improvements in New Mexico’s public schools said Wednesday that state lawmakers are failing to comply. “The Legislature has dropped the ball on funding needed to move the state toward compliance with the court ruling,” said Preston Sanchez, an attorney for the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty, which represents one set of plaintiffs in the case. The Legislative Finance Committee has proposed spending an additional $416 million for public education in the coming year. Of that total, $113 million would be directed toward at-risk students who headlined the lawsuit. “It’s not enough,” Sanchez said.

Bill to shift federal education funding pits urban schools against tribes

Two state senators who represent rural districts hope to topple a long-standing system that uses the lion’s share of a federal grant program to help fund urban schools. Operational money from the grants initially goes to 25 school districts and five charter schools. But then the state shortchanges these needy districts, said Sen. George Muñoz, D-Gallup, who called what happens “a shell game.” That’s because the state takes the equivalent of 75 percent of that Impact Aid money and reduces it from those districts’ general fund support for schools. Districts receiving Impact Aid say that means they only get a quarter of the federal money.

Governor names public education secretary, plus five assistants

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham on Thursday finally hired her secretary of public education, and both said they aren’t afraid of the challenges ahead. “I’m feeling not so much fear but excitement,” said Karen Trujillo, a longtime educator from Las Cruces, who will lead the department. In choosing Trujillo for the $128,000-a-year job, Lujan Grisham ended weeks of speculation about who would overhaul a public education system often ranked as one of the worst in the country. The governor said Trujillo leads an “all-star team of education” professionals. Together, they hired four New Mexico educators as deputy secretaries and a special adviser from California whose background is in education and sociology.

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.

Lawmakers pressed to devise plan for improving public education

State Rep. Bobby Gonzales shook his head from side to side after listening to all the suggestions about how to meet a judge’s order to provide more resources to New Mexico children who, in the court’s view, are not receiving a good public education. “About 15 different ideas,” the Democrat from Taos said following a hearing on the topic last week in the House Appropriations and Finance Committee. “Maybe we need to break it all down. Maybe we can’t do it all in one year.” But the state doesn’t have a year, or even half a year, to comply with a mandate handed down in June by state District Judge Sarah Singleton of Santa Fe.