When Michelle Lujan Grisham announced after the election she was building a transition team to help gather data and create strategies for reforming the state’s public education system, it was perhaps no surprise that five of the roughly 30 members of the group represented teachers unions. That didn’t come as much of a surprise to many observers: Teachers unions have aligned themselves with Democratic Party candidates and leaders for many years, and had endorsed Lujan Grisham in the 2018 election — just as they had backed Democrat Gary King in 2014 against then-Gov. Susana Martinez. Now, as Lujan Grisham embarks on a 60-day legislative session in which the future of New Mexico’s educational system will be a central topic, the power of the unions will be a looming question. Will their power be on full display in 2019 and beyond, or are they simply moving back into the picture after eight years of often-bitter battles with the Martinez administration? Several Republican legislators say they expect the unions will have undeniable influence, particularly when it comes to pushing for higher teacher pay and changes in the state’s teacher evaluation system, which has relied heavily on student test scores to measure a teacher’s effectiveness.
The president pro tem of the New Mexico Senate on Wednesday called for the resignation of the five regents of New Mexico State University, saying they had arbitrarily stripped powers from Chancellor Garrey Carruthers. The regents voted Monday to prohibit Carruthers from hiring and firing people in executive or coaching positions at the main campus in Las Cruces and on NMSU’s branch campuses. This triggered a strong response from Senate President Pro Tem Mary Kay Papen, D-Las Cruces. She stated in a letter of complaint to the regents that they had inappropriately and perhaps unlawfully delegated their responsibilities to one person while taking away authority from Carruthers. Papen’s reference was to regents board Chairwoman Debra Hicks, who was empowered by the rest of the board to make interim appointments.
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.
This week in the Legislature may see some debate regarding abortions and whether or not doctors should have a role in family discussions. Earlier this month, Gov. Susana Martinez outlined her legislative priorities in her State of the State address. In addition to presenting her six-point-plan to bolster the state’s economy, she also called for legislators to tackle certain issues during the 30-day legislative session. She encouraged them to pass bills related to education reform and expanded criminal penalties. Legislators have introduced a handful of bills related to abortion, but she skirted the issue in her speech.
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.
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.
How New Mexico educates its children will be in the hands of a state judge soon as a landmark trial against the state Public Education Department wraps up. Over eight weeks, the trial has featured dozens of witnesses and numerous citations to academic studies and policy reports. But in the end, the trial before First Judicial District Judge Sarah Singleton in Santa Fe boiled down to dueling worldviews. The plaintiffs — the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) — cited education outcomes for low-income, Native American and English language learners as evidence that New Mexico does not meet its constitutional obligation to provide a sufficient education for all children. This story originally appeared at New Mexico In Depth and is reprinted with permission.
Southern New Mexico is blessed with a rich heritage of public lands, and should have a strong voice in the discussion about how to protect and manage those public lands. Right now, we have an opportunity to guide land-use decisions so that they weigh and balance the needs of all stakeholders: a Bureau of Land Management Resource Management Plan (RMP), which includes Otero Mesa. A draft RMP is expected this year, and by using our voices we can call on the BLM to use all of the tools at their disposal to create a balanced plan that adequately protects the Otero Mesa landscape. Bill Soules is a Democratic member of the Senate from Las Cruces representing District 37. Otero Mesa contains the largest and wildest Chihuahuan Desert grassland left in America.
Recently—and very quietly—the state Public Education Department (PED) appears to have cut $3 million or more from a popular summer learning program for young children ages 5 to 8 set to begin next month. As a result, 6,100 fewer children across New Mexico will receive classroom instruction that is proven to narrow the achievement gap between low-income students and their peers, increase skills, and improve student test scores. The state-funded K–3 Plus initiative is innovative – and it works. PED’s decision to slash funding for it is morally wrong and should be reversed. K–3 Plus extends the school year for children entering kindergarten through third grade by 25 instructional days beginning in the summer before school starts, in eligible schools.
For seven consecutive years, Gov. Susana Martinez has unsuccessfully pushed a bill to hold back thousands of third-graders who score below par on standardized reading tests. A pair of similar bills this year haven’t even received a hearing before a legislative committee. And with just five days left in the 60-day legislative session, it is unlikely that they will. Democratic Rep. Stephanie Garcia Richard, chairwoman of the House Education Committee, said she didn’t know whether the panel would have time to hear House Bill 114, introduced by Rep. Monica Youngblood, R-Albuquerque. But even if Garcia Richard’s committee takes up the measure, it almost certainly would table it.