I began looking for Cleveland High School’s report card with the simple Google search “New Mexico school report cards.” The first listing was School Grading – New Mexico Public Education Department. I followed the link straight to PED’s school grading portal. It was easy enough from there to get to the Rio Rancho school district and the high school. Clicking on the map marker (labeled with an A), I was able to bring up a link to Cleveland’s report card. Yep, it’s an A-grade school.
Amber Wallin, Kids Count director for New Mexico Voices for Children, flashed up a photo on a screen during her presentation to childhood advocates and elected leaders in Las Cruces for the first Southern New Mexico Kids Count conference on Thursday. Anyone of a certain age would recognize the black and white photo of a motley bunch of kids in baseball uniforms: The Bad News Bears. Wallin said people in New Mexico were tired of being those Bears, tired of hearing the same old stats: 49th in child well-being, 50th in education, 49th in community and family. Some were tuning out, becoming numb, or throwing up their hands because it didn’t seem like there was anything they could do to change the situation. What is her answer to that? “Policy matters,” she said.
Jockeying for what little new money is expected for the coming fiscal year has already started. Children, Youth and Families Secretary Monique Jacobson is seeking $26 million more for her department, mostly to cover the growing cost of subsidized child care in New Mexico. She told members of the Legislative Finance Committee on Wednesday that the cost per child for day care and early education has risen from about $312 per month in 2012 to $535 in 2018. That reflects increases in reimbursements aimed at increasing the quality of programs and improving worker pay and education. While looking at early childhood education efforts in Dona Ana County I waded pretty deeply into the weeds on access to high quality childcare in the state.
Charlie Garcia is a bubbly 4-year-old with soft brown curls. Sitting down for a small group activity on a late-August afternoon at Alpha School in Las Cruces, she chatters with her teachers and friends. Sitting quietly nearby is Evelynn Aguirre McClure. Assistant teacher Brittany Polanco encourages the two girls and their classmate to build a house and fill it with drawings of their families. Using popsicle sticks, Polanco shows them how to make the outlines, flip the sticks over, glue them and then flip them back over so they stick to the paper.
The Affordable Care Act and its Medicaid expansion will live on following the death Sept. 27 of congressional Republicans’ last-ditch effort to repeal and replace Obamacare, but uncertainty remains for thousands of families in New Mexico whose children are covered through the Children’s Health Insurance Program. Congress allowed funding for the program to expire over the weekend. CHIP, which began under the Clinton administration, covers children from lower- and middle-income families who make too much to qualify for Medicaid but not enough to buy private insurance. CHIP covers 9 million kids in the U.S.
According to estimates from the state Human Services Department, more than 11,300 children in New Mexico are covered under CHIP, and if Congress does not appropriate money for the program the state would have to come up with $31.2 million to keep the program going, said Abuko Estrada, a staff attorney for the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty who works on health access issues.
We’re so proud of the work our friend and former colleague Sandra Fish did for New Mexico In Depth, including the Openness Project, a special website at opennessproject.com that made it easier for New Mexico voters to follow the money in elections. She was honored for that work by another great organization that works for government transparency here, the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government.
How New Mexico educates its children will be in the hands of a state judge soon as a landmark trial against the state Public Education Department wraps up. Over eight weeks, the trial has featured dozens of witnesses and numerous citations to academic studies and policy reports. But in the end, the trial before First Judicial District Judge Sarah Singleton in Santa Fe boiled down to dueling worldviews. The plaintiffs — the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) — cited education outcomes for low-income, Native American and English language learners as evidence that New Mexico does not meet its constitutional obligation to provide a sufficient education for all children. And they recommend a wholesale transformation of the education system to target at-risk students earlier and with greater resources to help close the education achievement gap.
Even in his final days of battling leukemia in early 2016, Jose Frietze was fighting for the youth services agency he founded in 1977. The state Human Services Department had accused the organization — Las Cruces-based Families and Youth Inc. — of potential Medicaid fraud and overbilling by $856,745 in 2013. A stop payment of $1.5 million in Medicaid funding for services already provided crimped FYI’s cash flow, leading to layoffs. And because of the accusations, FYI was forced to hand off part of its business to an Arizona company brought in by Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration. Frietze’s daughters Victoria and Marisa remember how tough the allegations were on Frietze and their family.
As Gilda Radner’s Emily Litella might have said, “Nevermind!”
More than four years after accusing Southwest Counseling Center of overbilling the state by $2.8 million in Medicaid reimbursements, the Human Services Department has settled with the former Las Cruces behavioral health provider for $484.87. SWCC was one of 15 health organizations accused of overbilling and potential fraud by Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration in 2013. The state suspended Medicaid payments to the organizations pending an investigation, and outsourced behavioral health contracts to five Arizona companies, which effectively crippled the network of New Mexico behavioral health providers. All the while, the state kept an audit they used to justify the move secret, making it impossible for each organization to know what they were being accused of specifically. See a timeline and read of coverage of the Medicaid freeze here.
Jeff Taborda lives in a faded green trailer in an old, but neatly kept mobile home community in north Las Cruces. Taborda, 23, graduated in December from New Mexico State University with a degree in criminal justice, with ambitions to go into law enforcement and eventually join the FBI. He is lean and muscular, working out regularly with his younger brother, Steven. The home Taborda shares with his girlfriend is sparsely furnished, clean dishes in a rack in the sink. “As soon as I eat, I do the dishes,” he told visitors on a recent 100-degree afternoon.