Martinez vetoes bill on use of sick leave impacting teachers’ evaluations

Gov. Susana Martinez vetoed legislation Thursday that would allow teachers to use their sick leave without it affecting their evaluations. Martinez said if the bill, which sponsors dubbed the “Teachers are Human Too Act,” became law, it would lead to more teacher absences, which would create more expenses, including for substitute teachers. Martinez said this would also lead to decreased quality of education. “We need our teachers in our classrooms, and House Bill 241 would lead to more teacher absences,” Martinez wrote. Related: Education chiefs fail to appear at hearing

The Public Education Department was unable to estimate in the bill’s Fiscal Impact Report how many teacher absences there would be under the bill, and at what cost.

House passes bill to expand contraception access

The state House of Representatives approved a bill to preserve contraception coverage put in place as part of the federal Affordable Care Act and expand some access on a mostly party-line vote Monday evening. Three Republicans—state Reps. Sarah Maestas Barnes and Nate Gentry of Albuquerque and Rebecca Dow of Truth or Consequences—joined ranks with Democrats to approve the bill. The bill, sponsored by state Rep. Deborah Armstrong, D-Albuquerque, would expand access to contraceptives by requiring health insurance plans to allow women to obtain up to 12 months of their birth control prescription at one time. The bill would expand the types of contraceptives available over the counter and include condoms and vasectomies in health insurance plans.

House rejects charter school moratorium in tie vote

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.

Moratorium on charter schools heads to full House

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.

Effort to make college research secret stalls over fears it goes too far

Angelo Artuso warns that a move by lawmakers to shield some university research from the public eye could lead to harrowing consequences. At a Wednesday morning House committee hearing, Artuso invoked some of history’s darkest state-sanctioned university research projects. For decades, researchers at Tuskegee University studied the effects of syphilis by pretending to offer infected Black men free health care. And several colleges and universities from the early 1950s until 1973 were involved in Project MKUltra, a CIA program that used drugs like LSD unknowingly on human subjects to experiment with mind control. Programs like those, involving government-funded atrocities at institutions of higher learning,  Artuso maintained, would remain hidden at New Mexico public higher education institutions under a bill sponsored by state Reps.

Sweeping charter school reform bill stalls in House committee

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.

Lawmakers approve money for courts

The state House of Representatives rushed Monday evening to approve emergency funding so that New Mexico’s court system would have enough money to pay jurors and interpreters for at least the next two months. The 68-0 vote sends the funding bill to the Senate with the clock ticking on what Supreme Court Chief Justice Charles Daniels said could be a breakdown of New Mexico’s justice system. He said the state will be forced to end jury trials March 1 for lack of money. House members approved the bill just days after Republican Gov. Susana Martinez vetoed emergency court funding when Democrats added it to a different bill. Judges and court administrators aren’t the only ones feeling the pain of New Mexico’s cash shortage.

House bill calling for $2M in tuition aid for preschool teachers advances

A measure that would provide $2 million in tuition assistance for preschool teachers to further their education advanced in the state House on Wednesday, with unanimous approval from lawmakers on the Education Committee. The money, which would come from the state’s general fund, would help retain early childhood educators and allow them to command higher wages, said the bill’s sponsors, Rep. Christine Trujillo, D-Albuquerque, and Rep. Rebecca Dow, R-Truth or Consequences. “This is directly tied to the quality of [the early childhood education] staff,” Dow said during Wednesday’s hearing on House Bill 135. She said the vast majority of educators who would benefit from the bill are women and minorities. A 2016 report by the U.S. departments of Education and Health and Human Services said preschool teachers in the U.S. earn an average of $28,570, far less than the average salary of a kindergarten teacher — over $51,000 — and less than the wages of waiters, janitors and pest-control workers.

Dems advance latest plan to tap New Mexico land grant fund

State legislators split along party lines Monday in advancing a proposed constitutional amendment that would use some of the $15 billion Land Grant Permanent Fund to help pay for early childhood education and other public education programs.

The House Education Committee voted 7-6 for a plan to fund pre-K programs with an extra 1 percent from the endowment. Democrats supported the measure and Republicans opposed it. “Fifteen-billion-plus dollars — that’s almost richer than Donald Trump,” said Rep. Christine Trujillo, D-Albuquerque, in voicing her support for the measure. Groups such as New Mexico Voices for Children have urged lawmakers for years to use a larger share of the money that flows into the $15 billion investment account from oil, gas and mineral extraction on state lands. The proposal, if approved by lawmakers this year and then by voters in the 2018 general election, would supply $39 million for early childhood education and another $91 million for K-12 public schools in 2020.

Committee halts changes to budget cut bill to address concerns

A House committee held off on any changes to a bill providing big cuts across most state agencies to give lawmakers and the public more time to review the deal. This came even as the panel, the House Appropriations and Finance Committee, approved a bill to shift capital outlay funds for infrastructure projects and another to sweep unused reserves to the general fund to shore up the state’s large budget deficit. While the amendment to deepen some cuts, and halt others, did not go forward it will likely be the structure for a version to be heard on the House floor, as early as Monday. The proposal on the bill to cut spending would have deepened cuts for many state agencies. The committee amended the Senate bill that provided spending cuts to cut most state agencies by 5.5 percent instead of the 5 percent in the original Senate version.