Young children listen to a teacher as part of the summer K-3 Plus program. It was a good year for education. Whether it was great depended on who you asked. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and legislative leaders, both Democratic and Republican, extoled investments New Mexico made in education Saturday as the 60-day session came to a close. “This is a Legislature that delivered a moonshot,” the governor nearly shouted during a post-session press conference in her Cabinet Room on the fourth floor of the Roundhouse.
Celina Corral, right, with the Empowerment Congress , teaches a class on cultural diversity at Lynn Middle School, Wednesday on Dec. 5, 2018. The Empowerment Congress is one of Lynn’s community partners. A bill that would put New Mexico children’s heritage and culture at the center of education is racing to the finish line along with the 2019 legislative session. Co-sponsored by Rep. Tomas Salazar, HB 159 would set up a parallel structure in the Public Education Department to support the Bilingual Multicultural Education, Indian Education and Hispanic Education acts.
The House and Senate on Tuesday both overwhelmingly passed multimillion dollar education bills that are in large part an answer to the Yazzie Martinez funding lawsuit that found New Mexico was shortchanging at-risk students in violation of the state Constitution. The nearly identical bills, which will now have to be reconciled in a committee from both chambers, put about $337 million toward raises for teachers and other educators, extend the school year by 25 days for up to 91,000 elementary school students and more than double dollars dedicated to those at-risk students: low-income, English language learners and Native American students. “This bill is a once in a lifetime game-changer for all the students across the state. While many components of House Bill 5 address the requirements of the recent lawsuit, there are multiple dimensions that will have far reaching impact over decades to come,” House Floor Leader Sheryl Williams Stapleton, a co-sponsor of the bill, exhorted forcefully as she called for a vote. “For example, by doubling the at-risk funding factor, schools will make important decisions that will fit their students to help them be successful.”
The bill passed that chamber successfully by 53-14.
A proposed early childhood department got its start-up funding cut in half and even its name was reconsidered, but it survived the sausage making in the Senate Rules Committee on Wednesday morning, earning a unanimous vote to move on to the next legislative committee. The biggest bone of contention in the hearing over SB 22 was ensuring how the Public Education Department would apply for funding for its New Mexico PreK slots from a new Early Childhood Education and Care Department. The version that finally exited the Rules committee was v9.0. We’ll link to that when the Legislature’s website uploads the marked up bill. If you want to get a little sense of the tick-tock of the hearing, check out this tweet thread.
A child plays with beads in a New Mexico PreK classroom. A proposal for an Early Childhood Education and Care Department would bring together all children’s program for children ages 0 to 5 into the department, including New Mexico PreK administered both the Public Education Department and the Children Youth and Families Department. (Xchelzin Pena/New Mexico In Depth)
It was a powerhouse show of support last week for a plan to create an Early Childhood Education and Care Department. “Any other Cabinet secretaries here?,” Sen. Jeff Steinborn, D-Las Cruces, asked during public comment Feb. 13 on Senate Bill 22, which would create a department focused on providing education and services for children from birth to age 5.
If the bills that deal with education in this legislative session were snowflakes, we’d have a blizzard in the Roundhouse. There are more than 100 bills dealing with K-12 education alone. Higher education, early education and other extracurriculars double that number. But there’s a whole subset of bills that aim to tailor New Mexico’s education system to its diverse student body, especially Hispanic, Native American and English learner students. The bills would ensure students have access to bilingual and multicultural education, teachers who look like them and social services so that disadvantaged students thrive when they are sitting at their desks.
Preschool teacher Brittany Polanco does an evaluation of a student at Alpha School in Las Cruces for
the New Mexico Pre-K program. Most government safety net programs like welfare, Medicaid and food stamps have a “cliff effect.” It’s when someone gets a raise at work that makes them ineligible for financial help from the government, and they lose benefits that are more valuable than that bump in salary. Most benefit cliffs are fairly small, but the one for child care assistance in New Mexico looks like Wile E. Coyote just chased the Roadrunner off a mesa. Advocates for working families are hoping to change that financial cliff in child care assistance into a glide path for parents who are working toward financial security. New Mexico Voices for Children said its data shows that nine out of 10 people who get help with childcare costs from the Children Youth and Families Department are single parents with two kids.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is proposing $60 million more this year for early childhood education — part of a five-year plan to make access to preschool in New Mexico available to all 3- and 4-year-olds. Legislation has been introduced that expands the prekindergarten program in public schools and adds preschool classrooms to the school building fund. With a $1.1 billion surplus to ease financial pressures, both the governor and Legislature are proposing a huge boost in dollars meant for public schools. Given all that, does it still make sense to pursue the long-fought goal to tap the $17.5 billion Land Grant Permanent Fund to help pay for early childhood education in New Mexico? The governor, for one, says yes.
New Mexico’s moonshot for education finally has someone permanent at Mission Control. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham on Thursday named Karen Trujillo as her secretary of education, along with a diverse leadership team that has as its mission transforming the state’s beleaguered public school system to educate children better — and finally erase the achievement gap for at-risk students. The New Mexico State University education researcher and newly elected Doña Ana County commissioner has two credentials whose lack dogged Martinez appointee Hanna Skandera — she’s a native New Mexican and spent years at the front of a classroom. And she and her husband, Ben Trujillo, sent their three children to public schools. She also struck a different tone than former governor Susana Martinez’s education secretaries.
ByTrip Jennings and Sylvia Ulloa, New Mexico In Depth |
As the legislative session commences, public education is Issue No. 1 during the next 60 days in Santa Fe.And hanging over the debate about teachers’ salaries and envisioning schools for the 21st century will be state District Court Judge Sarah Singleton’s ruling that New Mexico has violated the state Constitution for not adequately educating at-risk students. New Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham spoke about rising to the challenge days after her victory with Kennedyesque imagery. “We have an opportunity to do a moonshot in education. That has never occurred before” she told a national TV audience on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”
But it’s unclear how Lujan Grisham and the Democratically controlled Legislature will respond to Singleton’s gauntlet. Even with a $1 billion surplus, top lawmakers are saying there may not be enough to satisfy every education need this year. Lujan Grisham suggested the same in mid-December, as she listed a litany of needs her administration is inheriting from Republican Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration.