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.
This Sunday, people gathered at a spot along the Gila River in southwestern New Mexico to nurture a small habitat restoration project and remember three Silver City teens who died in a plane crash three years ago. The mission of the Butterfly Way, located at The Nature Conservancy’s Gila River Farm, is to enhance the river corridor with native flowers, trees and milkweed that will benefit pollinators, including monarch butterflies. “It’s sort of a community effort to beautify a piece of the floodplain that had been highly hammered and damaged over time by different agricultural land uses,” said Patrice Mutchnick, mother of Ella Jaz Kirk. “We started planting pretty quickly after the kids passed. We drew up a five-year plan how to restore this area, and are using the monarch as the cornerstone of the project.”
At first, it was just family members, but over time, Mutchnick said they’ve invited more neighbors and friends, student groups and community members, to come to the farm.
The House on Thursday rejected a two-and-a-half-year moratorium on licensing new charter schools in New Mexico. Thirty-four House members voted to pass House Bill 46, which would have prohibited a chartering authority — the state or a local school district — from accepting or approving any new applications until Jan. 1, 2020. But 34 representatives also voted against it. In a tie vote, a bill fails.
A committee voted along party lines Saturday to temporarily halt the creation of any new charter schools, sending the moratorium to a vote in the full House of Representatives. Backers, including teachers unions, argue House Bill 46 would allow time to develop better oversight of charter schools and prevent new schools from drawing funding at a time when the budget for public education is already tight. But opponents, including the Public Education Department, business groups and parents with children on waiting lists for existing charter schools, argue the measure would limit options for students. “The victims of this legislation will be those families and those students who need those alternatives,” J.D. Bullington, a lobbyist for the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce, told the House Education Committee. The committee voted 7-6 to advance the measure.
Democrats on the House Education Committee effectively killed an expansive charter school reform bill after two hours of testimony Wednesday, arguing that it was too complex and contained provisions that many charter school advocates oppose. “It’s more dead than less [dead],” Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, D-Albuquerque, a co-sponsor of the bill, said after the committee’s 7-6 vote along party lines to table House Bill 273. The bill would have called for “automatic closure” of low-performing charter schools. It also removed a cap on the number of charter schools that could open in any given year, gave high-performing charter schools the ability to streamline their renewal process and would have cut charter school funding by 25 percent over the course of several years. Ivey-Soto and fellow co-sponsor Rep. James Smith, R-Sandia Park, told the committee the measure would save money for the state and hold charter schools more accountable.