Dona Ana County maps out plan for early childhood education

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.

Congress jeopardizes health insurance for 11,300 NM children

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.

Sandra Fish wins FOG Dixon Award

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.

Does poorly educating students violate the NM constitution? A judge will decide

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.

FYI building in Las Cruces, NM.

With agreement in hand, behavioral health CEO believed vindication was inevitable

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.

NM settles $2.8M Medicaid overpayment claim for $485

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.