A cut here, a whack there — and a budget takes form. But not without some acrimony. The Senate Finance Committee released considerable changes to the state’s main budget bill Tuesday, trimming the House’s spending plan in high-visibility areas such as roads and teacher pay raises, and scaling down one of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s most prized pieces of legislation, the Opportunity Scholarship. The committee unanimously approved its amendments to House Bill 2, which calls for a $7.6 billion budget for the 2021 fiscal year, and moves the legislation to the Senate floor. That would represent a 7.6 percent increase over the current year and would target reserves at 25 percent.
A key Senate committee on Monday unveiled 123 different changes to a $7 billion state budget approved by the House of Representatives, tweaking proposed raises for school teachers, funding for a marquee economic development program and plans to bring back soccer at the University of New Mexico. The budget would mark an 11 percent increase over the current year’s spending plan as New Mexico enjoys a windfall of tax revenue from an oil and gas boom and as the new Democratic governor, Michelle Lujan Grisham, sets out an agenda that includes big education funding increases as well as filling vacant positions across state government after years of budget cuts. The House approved the budget mostly along party lines last month, sending it to the Senate, where the Senate Finance Committee on Monday added about $19 million in spending to the plan and rearranged other expenses. The changes include more than trebling funding for an economic development program to $60 million from $14 million. The Local Economic Development Act allows the state to pay for brick-and-mortar upgrades such as roads and utility connections as well as other costs associated with setting up businesses to the state.
Anthony Brick, whose confidence defies his tender age of 11, told state lawmakers Tuesday that he hasn’t been to public school for almost two years. Anthony has a state license to use medical marijuana to treat a neuropsychological condition. But state law prohibits public schools from allowing students to use the drug on campus. This combination of circumstances has led to his being home-schooled while his peer group goes on without him. “I miss my friends,” he told members of the Senate Public Affairs Committee.
Top lawmakers on Monday rolled out a proposed $7 billion state budget that would include a whopping $600 million for public works projects around New Mexico as the government’s coffers swell with a windfall of revenue from an oil and gas boom. The Legislative Finance Committee’s proposed budget would mark almost an 11 percent increase in spending by the state. That is less than what Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has proposed in her own version of the state budget, which would raise spending by about 13 percent. But as lawmakers prepared to convene Tuesday for a 60-day legislative session, leaders indicated they are not far off from an agreement with the new governor when it comes to some spending on the issue that is sure to dominate the agenda: education. Faced not only with a judge’s order to come up with ways of improving education for many of the state’s most vulnerable students but also with a bright financial outlook in the short-term, legislators echoed Lujan Grisham’s own call to greatly increase funding for New Mexico schools.
The state decided not to move forward with proposed science standards that would have taken out references to evolution, climate change and the age of the earth. Instead, the state Public Education Department will adopt the Next Generation Science Standards in full, with some New Mexico-specific additions. The Albuquerque Journal first reported the news. The decision comes after intense criticism of the original proposed standards, culminating in an hours-long, overflow hearing during which every speaker opposed the changes. PED Secretary-designate Christopher Ruszkowski did not attend that meeting.
New Mexico is one of the worst states for teachers. That comes from WalletHub, which ranked each state as well as the District of Columbia. New Mexico ranked 44th. New Mexico ranked 50th, out of 51, when it came to drop out rate and lowest reading test scores and 49th in lowest math scores. The study also revealed that 84 percent of the state’s teachers have inadequate pensions.
The state Senate’s extraordinary effort to override a veto by Gov. Susana Martinez has landed with a thud in the House of Representatives. Two days after senators voted overwhelmingly to save a bill that would have allowed teachers to use more sick days without being penalized in their performance evaluation, no one has stepped forward in the House to call for a similar override vote. Note: This piece has been updated throughout. Majority Democrats are looking to Republicans who co-sponsored the bill to push for the override in the House. Related: Senate votes to override Martinez veto on teacher absences bill
A two-thirds majority of both the Senate and House is needed to override a veto.
A bill that would allow teachers to take up to 10 days of sick leave without it hurting their performance evaluations is headed to the desk of Gov. Susana Martinez for her consideration. The state Senate on Monday unanimously approved House Bill 241, which is subtitled “Teachers are human, too.” It amends the School Personnel Act so that using up to 10 days of personal leave or sick days in a school year would not negatively affect teachers’ performance reviews. “Teachers will do a better job teaching and will not get the students sick if they are healthy when they are in the classroom,” said Sen. Craig Brandt, R-Rio Rancho, one of the bill’s sponsors. “We should not punish them for doing their job.”
New Mexico’s high school graduation rate rose to 71 percent in 2016, the highest percentage since the state began tracking four-year rates in 2008, Gov. Susana Martinez announced Monday. The rate jumped 2½ points from the previous year and increased in 48 of the state’s 89 school districts in 2016, including Albuquerque, Las Cruces, Rio Rancho and Santa Fe. “With more students graduating high school than ever before, New Mexico is better preparing our kids to enter the workforce, college and beyond,” Martinez said at a news conference at the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce. The governor used the occasion to again push her plan to end the practice of so-called social promotion — moving students forward to the next grade — for third graders who cannot read proficiently. The graduation rate for Santa Fe Public Schools in 2016 was 71 percent, up from 66.8 percent for the previous year.
Public documents show the superintendent of a school district in Sandoval County worked for four months in 2015 on an expired state educator license. But that superintendent, Allan Tapia of Bernalillo Municipal Schools, blames the state Public Education Department for not processing his license on time. “If they didn’t process it on their end, I didn’t have control over that,” he said in an interview. The documents, obtained through public records requests to the state by NM Political Report, show a 115-day gap between the expiration of Tapia’s administrative license and its renewal by the state Public Education Department last year. They also show the state’s renewal of Tapia’s administrative license came nearly four months after his previous license expired.