Dems push plan to tap the ‘permanent fund’ for early childhood education

A proposed constitutional amendment to draw more money from the state Land Grant Permanent Fund to expand early childhood education jumped its first hurdle with ease Wednesday. The House Education Committee voted 10-4 on party lines for the measure. Democrats supported the measure, House Joint Resolution 1. It would take another 1 percent — at least $150 million a year — from the $17.5 billion state endowment. The bill’s proponents, including Rep. Javier Martinez, D-Albuquerque, say early childhood education can transform New Mexico, often regarded as one of the worst states in the nation for public education.

Dems again push to use land grant to fund early childhood education

A ballot measure that calls for using more money from the state’s $17 billion Land Grant Permanent Fund for early childhood education is a small step closer to going to voters this year. The House Education Committee on Monday voted 7-6 along party lines to approve the constitutional amendment that backers say could expand access to education programs for young children across New Mexico, the state with the highest rate of child poverty. Republicans on the committee voted against the proposal. They say it could deplete a fund that now props up the budgets of New Mexico’s public schools and is supposed to last forever. Democrats in the House of Representatives have made a priority of getting the measure, House Joint Resolution 1, on the November ballot.

Reading bill dies quietly

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.

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.

Early childhood education bill faces uphill climb

Backers of a proposed constitutional amendment that would take about $112 million a year from the state’s land grant endowment to pay for early childhood education say a new study shows that the need for such programs actually exceeds $400 million annually. “This is an alarm,” Allen Sánchez, president of CHI St. Joseph’s Children, said Tuesday of the report commissioned by his organization. Sánchez is among the most vocal supporters of House Joint Resolution 1, sponsored by Democratic state Reps. Antonio “Moe” Maestes and Javier Martinez, both of Albuquerque.

Bills to stop contract buyouts die in House committee

A state House committee on Friday tabled two pieces of legislation aimed at stopping public school superintendents, college presidents and university coaches from getting what some lawmakers referred to as a “golden parachute” when their contracts are terminated early. The House Education Committee action effectively killed both bills, sponsored by Rep. Bill Rehm, R-Albuquerque. The decisions came on bipartisan votes, with some lawmakers and members of the education community arguing that the measures would hinder the ability of school districts and colleges to recruit high-quality candidates for top jobs. Much of the discussion Friday centered on recent controversy involving Robert Frank, the former president of The University of New Mexico who agreed to step down in December under a deal with the board of regents that allows him to continue collecting his annual salary of $350,000 through May. Under the agreement, Frank can continue working at UNM in a $190,000-a-year tenured position.

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.

House committee addresses APS hiring practices

The House Education Committee addressed two bills that seemed to target issues within the Albuquerque Public Schools. The committee voted unanimously to tighten educator background checks but failed to pass legislation that would add restrictions to school district superintendents in Albuquerque and Las Cruces. Both bills stem from recent issues in Albuquerque where the past two superintendents left with large severance packages and a deputy superintendent was hired without a background check while he had criminal sexual abuse charges on his record. Rep. David Adkins, R-Albuquerque, is sponsoring HB 127 which would require all educators to complete a fingerprint based background check before they start work. Currently, state statute does not outline a specific timeline for when a background check must be completed.