New Mexico In Depth is speaking with the candidates for New Mexico governor on the issues of early childhood, child wellbeing and education in New Mexico. Jeff Apodaca of Albuquerque is a former media executive and is one of three candidates seeking the Democratic nomination. This Q&A has been edited for length and clarity. Sylvia Ulloa: What would early childhood education in New Mexico look like in an Apodaca administration? And what is your plan for offering early childhood care and education in rural New Mexico, where they often lack infrastructure and access to skilled early childhood educators? Jeff Apodaca: Here’s our game plan.
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.
The proposal to expand early childhood education across New Mexico died quietly Tuesday at the state Capitol, scotched because a vote on the initiative will not be taken in the state Senate Finance Committee. Sen. John Arthur Smith, the Democrat from Deming who chairs the committee, said in an interview that he had decided not to give a hearing to the proposed constitutional amendment before the legislative session ends at noon Thursday. “It doesn’t have the votes,” Smith said of the measure, House Joint Resolution 1. Asked if he had polled his 12-member committee, Smith said he expected that at least he and the five Republican members probably would vote down the initiative. That would leave the measure no better than a 6-6 tie, meaning it could not advance to the full 42-member Senate.
A senior Democratic lawmaker says Christopher Ruszkowski, secretary-designate of the state Public Education Department, has not consented to a background check, preventing the Senate from holding his confirmation hearing. “We require all teachers and administrators and others in the [education] field who deal with children in our public schools to be cleared, and we are still unable to do that with Mr. Ruszkowski,” Senate Rules Committee Chairwoman Linda Lopez, D-Albuquerque, said Monday in a statement. “He is operating as Cabinet secretary without authority to do so.” Gov. Susana Martinez, a Republican, appointed Ruszkowski last summer. But Lopez said the Martinez administration did not send formal notice to the Senate, which the state constitution requires within 30 days of appointment.
As gunshots rang out in Aztec High School one morning last December, a substitute teacher was left to improvise. She did not have a key to lock the door to her classroom, but ushered her students into a neighboring room and barricaded the door with a couch. The gunman entered the classroom the students had just left and fired several rounds through the wall that stood between them. The bullets did not hit any of the students, and the substitute teacher’s swift thinking was credited with saving lives. The shooting left two students dead elsewhere on campus, and the gunman — who did not attend the school — killed himself.
For eight years now, the administration of Gov. Susana Martinez has pushed legislation to hold back more students who score below par on standardized reading tests. And just like every other year since Martinez took office, that legislation faltered at the Roundhouse on Friday, with Democrats questioning how the state could implement a sweeping overhaul of reading education without additional funds and whether schools should base decisions about holding back students on one set of test scores. Rep. Monica Youngblood, a Republican from Albuquerque and the sponsor of House Bill 210, told the House Education Committee this year’s reading bill was not like previous iterations. It would have given parents the option to let their child proceed to the next grade level even if the school recommended holding the child back. And it would have called for more intensive after-hour classes to bring students up to par.
Democratic state legislators who want to expand early childhood education by spending a portion of New Mexico’s $16 billion land grant endowment won another round Friday, bringing their proposal to a pivotal point. The Senate Education Committee voted 5-3 on party lines to advance the proposed constitutional amendment, formally called House Joint Resolution 1. Republicans on the committee opposed the measure, saying spending more of the endowment now would hurt future generations. One Republican lawmaker also pointed to the market’s recent volatility and said the fund has lost hundreds of millions of dollars during the decline. Under the proposed amendment, another 1 percent would be taken from the state’s Land Grant Permanent Fund.
Early childhood education proponents are proclaiming a big win now that the House of Representatives has approved a measure to pull more funds from the state’s $17.5 billion Land Grant Permanent Fund to pay for prekindergarten programs.
But House Joint Resolution 1, as the measure is known, will soon have to navigate its way through the choppy waters of the Senate Finance Committee before it goes to the full Senate for debate and a vote. And the head of that committee, Sen. John Arthur Smith of Deming, made it clear Wednesday the odds aren’t good. “Based on history, it’s probably a long shot it will get through,” said Smith, a conservative Democrat who has long opposed any efforts to draw money from the Land Grant Permanent Fund. He is not alone. A poll of seven of the 11 members of that committee, Democrats and Republicans alike, suggests it won’t be an easy sail.
If state Sen. Bill Soules had his way, New Mexico would invest an extra $375 million in public schools right now. Where the cash-strapped state would find that money is another matter altogether. Soules, a Las Cruces Democrat, has once again introduced legislation calling for the state to follow the recommendation of a decadeold study and funnel hundreds of millions of dollars more into its public education system — one that generally ranks at or near the bottom in most national reports. But Soules’ bill doesn’t have a chance in the upcoming legislative session. And he knows it.
A disgraced former Albuquerque Public Schools superintendent got a new job in education, this time in Oregon. Portland Public Schools hired Luis Valentino to help guide academic strategy on a three-month contract, according to The Oregonian. Valentino was expected to officially sign his contract Monday. Valentino resigned from APS just two months into his job, after NM Political Report revealed he hired an Assistant Superintendent, Jason Martinez, without conducting a background check. NM Political Report found out that Martinez was facing trial for four felonies related to sexual abuse of a child.