Poll shows majority of Latino parents concerned about distance learning

A majority of Latino parents in New Mexico are concerned their children will fall behind in their education because of extended time away from school and increased online learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to newly released survey data. 

The survey was conducted by Latino Decisions, a national polling and research group, and commissioned by a coalition of New Mexico advocacy groups. 

According to the survey, 81 percent of primary caregivers who were polled said they were concerned about their children’s time away from an actual classroom. The survey also showed that 48 percent of Latino families in New Mexico think that help from the state with online education is the most important issue, while 36 percent of those who were surveyed said the most important issue was getting more information about how school will proceed in several weeks. 

Dr. Gabriel Sanchez with Latino Decisions said during a news conference that one of the takeaways from the survey is that many families that were struggling to get by prior to the COVID-19 pandemic are now facing more challenges in order to keep their children engaged in school. 

“For these families, especially thinking about a hybrid model or having to go fully online again in the fall, that time gap from being able to be equipped with the tools to be able to keep up with the education is just going to make those underlying inequalities much greater,” Sanchez said. 

The survey also showed that 28 percent of the families said they only have internet access through a mobile phone and 21 percent said they do not have any access to the internet. 

Sanchez said there are several possible solutions to keep kids on track in their education, but that technical steps like increasing wireless internet access spots across the state and creating distance learning methods not reliant on the internet need to happen soon. 

“I think we have a bit of time, but that time is shrinking, to be able to make some aggressive steps to ensure that all children, not just those that have access to high speed internet, are able to continue with their education,” Sanchez said. 

Johana Bencomo, a Las Cruces city councilor and the director of faith-based advocacy group 

New Mexico CAFé, said keeping primarily Spanish speaking families updated can help ease anxiety or confusion about what’s expected of parents and students. 

“For [CAFé], the thing that’s most important is, and we’ve been doing this with a lot of our partners statewide since this pandemic began, it’s just really bridging the communication gap and ensuring that our families have good information and relevant information in Spanish,” Bencomo said. 

Javier Martínez, the executive director of Partnership for Community Action and a New Mexico state representative, said complicating the issue is the fact that many immigrant families do not qualify for federal or state financial assistance and cannot find jobs that allow them to work from home. 

“Those folks, in many cases, absolutely have to leave the house to go work in whatever trade they’re in, and that’s a complicating factor,” Martínez said. “So we are working actively with the state to identify some sort of program to help support those families.”

Martínez said his group asked Albuquerque Public Schools to create a technical assistance process to at least partially remove the burden from individual teachers. 

“One of the things we saw between the end of March and the end of May, was that you had teachers pulling triple duty, sometimes teaching, [and also doing] social work and technical assistance for families to use that technology, and that’s unfair,” Martínez said. “It’s unfair for the teachers and for the student and is unfair for the family.”

The survey results come weeks before New Mexico schools are set to start. The state’s Public Education Department has largely left specifics of how the year will go up to individual districts.  

Immigrants left out

Without relief aid from the federal and state government, immigrant families could suffer homelessness and hunger. Amber Wallin, NM Voices for Children’s deputy director, said that without any aid during the public health emergency and economic crisis, the crisis will worsen for immigrant families, leading to homelessness and hunger. That could also mean there will be children who live in immigrant or mixed-status homes who won’t be prepared to learn due to hunger in the coming school year. Some immigrant-owned businesses will be unable to restart, leading to more job losses, she said. “We had huge challenges already.

Proposal to tap land grant permanent fund for early childhood education suffers another setback

For years, it was one of the most talked-about proposals in the Roundhouse. 

There was repeated excitement, momentum, controversy and resistance — all over legislation calling for a constitutional amendment to tap more of the state’s nearly $20 billion Land Grant Permanent Fund to pay for early childhood education. But this year, the atmosphere is more one of muted neglect. That’s likely because there’s a new kid on the block, a proposal to create an early childhood trust fund with other revenue streams. The idea has traveled further in its first year than the land grant proposal ever has — it reached the governor’s desk after being passed by the full Senate on Friday. A big setback for the land grant proposal came on Saturday in the Senate Rules Committee, where most members walked out before the legislation, known this year as House Joint Resolution 1, was heard. Many legislators had been in the room for other matters earlier that morning, yet only four were left when HJR1 was taken up, depriving its supporters of a quorum needed for a vote. 

“I apologize.

House bill continues budget battle

If legislation had taglines, this one’s might be: “How a highly technical bill became the latest partisan punching bag.”

On Friday, the Democrat-controlled House Taxation and Revenue Committee approved House Bill 341, which proposes to transfer money from the state’s enormous Tax Stabilization Reserve fund into its operating reserve if the latter drops to less than 1 percent of total appropriations. The legislation’s proponents say the measure would fix a structural issue created when the rainy-day fund was set up, and would even help the state avoid calling a special session when it’s not necessary. But it became a flashpoint for discord Friday, with Republicans critics contending the bill is a cover for Democrats spending too much during the session. “If we refuse to address the technical problem that has arisen, we’re not doing our job,” House Speaker Brian Egolf said Friday at the committee hearing before voting in favor of the bill. At issue is the balance in the state’s operating reserve, a sort of holding account for the general fund that provides a buffer in case there’s a revenue shortfall.

House Republicans say Dems overspending with budget

With a week left to this year’s 30-day legislative session, House Republicans in a Thursday news conference again complained their Democratic counterparts are spending too much, claiming if a “messed up” budget proposal isn’t trimmed, the state may come up short by as much as $200 million. 

Leaders on the Democratic side immediately countered, calling Republican claims  “ridiculous,” “absurd” and “wrong.” Welcome to the Roundhouse, day 23. During a Thursday morning news conference, Rep. Jim Townsend, R-Artesia, and Rep. Rod Montoya, R-Farmington, pointed to a Legislative Finance Committee financial update this week that indicated projected revenues would fall short of the proposed expenditures by $200 million. “It’s just another example of the crazy spending going on in your Capitol,” Townsend said. Republicans have recommended a 4.3 percent increase to the 2021 fiscal year budget, far smaller than the 7.5 percent increase passed in the House more than a week ago. 

The planned expenditures in the proposed budget, said Rep. Larry Scott, R-Hobbs, “are a concern.

Lower profile cannabis bills headed for floor debates

With eight days left in the legislative session, passing a cannabis legalization bill is looking more and more like a long-shot. But there are three other bills related to cannabis and hemp that have been moving through committee assignments, some with little to no debate or opposition. 

The two cannabis legalization bills have stalled so far in both legislative chambers. The Senate version passed its first committee and is scheduled to be heard Wednesday afternoon in its second. The House version of legalization has yet to be heard in its first committee. Both bills are politically divisive and will likely be subjected to hours of public testimony and legislative debate.

Bill for uninsured passes after search for quorum

With a vote of 6-0, Democrats on the House Taxation and Revenue Committee passed a bill that advocates say would help the uninsured and the underinsured. No Republicans voted on HB 278. Committee co-chair Javier Martinez, D-Albuquerque, tried to go to a vote at one point but then appeared to stall. He asked Rep. Deborah Armstrong, also a Democrat from Albuquerque, to talk more about the bill. A few advocates of the bill ran out of the hearing to try to find more Democrats who could return to the hearing.

State officials scramble to respond to restraint and seclusion in schools

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, Attorney General Hector Balderas and Rep. Javier Martínez, D-Albuquerque, are all moving independently to rein in some of the most dangerous practices in New Mexico classrooms: restraint and seclusion. Each is pursuing separate initiatives to enforce stricter reporting requirements for incidents involving the controversial practices.  

Their efforts follow an October 2019 Searchlight investigation revealing that New Mexico schools routinely restrain and seclude special education students, often in violation of state and federal law. The state’s largest school district, Albuquerque Public Schools, has restrained and secluded students well over 4,600 times since 2014, the investigation found. It also found that APS repeatedly filed misleading reports to the federal government, even taking the extraordinary step of refusing to provide records to parents whose children were restrained or secluded.  

Often referred to as “therapeutic holding” or “physical management,” restraint is a contentious and dangerous method of behavior management derived from karate and judo, in which specially trained school staff place children and youth in physical holds that restrict movement. Seclusion, another behavior management practice, entails forcing a student into isolated rooms sometimes referred to as “scream rooms.” 

Child psychologists have decried the practices as ineffective and traumatic — for both students and staff.

Bills to exempt Social Security from tax tabled

The House Taxation and Revenue Committee tabled two bills Friday that proposed to eliminate or reduce the state’s tax on Social Security income. Key legislators had previously voiced support for House Bills 29 and 77, and the majority of public attendees who spoke favored it at Friday’s committee hearing. Yet Democratic and Republican legislators alike said they were worried about altering the tax without having a plan to replace lost revenue. 

“You can’t have it both ways. Somewhere you have to pay the piper,” said Rep. Jim Trujillo, a Santa Fe Democrat and co-chair of the committee. “Let’s find a way to pay for it so we don’t create a hole in the general fund.”

Cannabis research bill advances

The House Commerce and Economic Development approved a bill that would allow for special licenses to grow, buy, sell or manufacture cannabis for approved research facilities Friday by a 6-3 vote. HB 334, sponsored by Rep. Javier Martínez, D-Albuquerque, would allow licensed research facilities to grow and transport cannabis and establish a Cannabis Control Division to regulate licensing. The state’s Regulation and Licensing Department (RLD) would oversee the Cannabis Control Division. 

Martínez fielded questions from both Democratic and Republican committee members, but all of the criticisms came from Republicans. Some of those concerns were whether RLD is the best home for the Cannabis Control Department. 

Martínez and his expert witnesses explained to the committee that under current federal law, research facilities can get approval from the Drug Enforcement Agency to grow cannabis, but those researchers must get their plants from the federal agency. If passed, HB 334 would allow New Mexico to issue special research licenses and researchers could grow their own cannabis or buy from another approved facility. 

Rep. Kelly Fajardo, R-Los Lunas, said she didn’t think regulating cannabis is necessarily in the department’s purview.