A Senate committee bent Saturday to calls by Gov. Susana Martinez for more funding for state police pay and the District Attorney’s Office in Albuquerque, as well as calls from some fellow lawmakers to restore at least some of the funding cut from school districts last year. In announcing its version of the budget passed by the state House of Representatives late last month, the Senate Finance Committee seemed intent on maintaining the tenuous peace that has set in at the Roundhouse in the wake of the partisan clashes of the last few years. The budget would amount to about $6.3 billion and, according to the Senate Finance Committee, leave reserves around 10 percent. It would amount to about a 4 percent increase in spending over the current fiscal year. The House passed its version of the spending plan by a vote of 65-3 on Jan.
The governor’s top communications official left the administration. The Associated Press first reported that Chris Sanchez left his position as communications director in Gov. Susana Martinez’s office for an out-of-state job. Thursday, Public Education Secretary Hanna Skandera said she would be leaving her job later this month. Martinez is in her final term in office
Sanchez, who was the second-highest paid communications employee in the state, will be replaced by Larry Behrens. Behrens worked as spokesman for the state Public Education Department and the Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department.
A lawsuit challenges a ban on “disparaging” school tests by public education students that has been called a “gag rule” in the past. The American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico filed the lawsuit in First Judicial District Court Wednesday morning on behalf of six public schools teachers and one parent of a student in public schools. A regulation from the state Public Education Department (PED) says that public education employees cannot “disparage or diminish the significance, importance or use of standardized tests.” Penalties for violating the provision include “suspension or revocation of a person’s educator or administrator licensure or other PED license.”
The ACLU of New Mexico says that this runs counter to the rights of teachers and students under the New Mexico Constitution. The suit seeks an injunction to stop the enforcement of the rule. “The Public Education Department can’t enact sweeping restrictions intended to intimidate teachers and silence viewpoints that they don’t like,” ACLU of New Mexico Staff Attorney Maria Sanchez said in a statement.
Public Education Department Secretary Hanna Skandera said earlier this legislative session that her agency doesn’t include practice time in numbers it quotes regarding total time the tests require, an about-face from past statements from the department. Skandera relayed the new information in a February 3 Senate Finance Committee meeting in response to Sen. Howie Morales, D-Silver City, who has worked as a special education teacher. Her agency has relied on a consistent set of numbers in public statements meant for students, parents and educators, many of whom are increasingly concerned that standardized assessments detract from valuable classroom time. Those numbers, such as the ones quoted in this March 2014 handout, are reassuring:
Overall, on average across all grades, state-mandated testing time has decreased by about 30 minutes per year. Today, less than two percent of the school year is dedicated to state-mandated testing.