Public education issues will dominate session, with focus on at-risk students

A short exchange at Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s town hall last month captured the magnitude of the mission New Mexico is on as it seeks to remake public education. A mother, a recent transplant to Albuquerque from Gallup, told Lujan Grisham that school officials said her 8-year-old autistic daughter couldn’t learn Navajo. 

“Because it would confuse her,” the woman said, confessing the information hurt and angered her. 

“This has been going on for years and years and centuries with our culture,” the speaker said into a microphone so she could be heard by the crowd and those listening online. “I want her to learn who she is, where she came from and her identity and growing up and being proud of who she is.”The woman’s complaint could have been lifted from a 2018 court ruling that these days is forcing New Mexico to invest big in educating students who’ve historically gotten less. Noting federal and state governments’ forced assimilation of indigenous children over centuries, the late state Judge Sarah Singleton said the practice led to a “disconnect from and distrust of state institutions, such as public schools, where Native American values are not respected.”

Lujan Grisham acknowledged to the woman the state’s imperfect lurches toward improvement as New Mexico tries to overturn decades of policy and funding decisions to better educate at-risk students, most of whom are from communities of color.The state is struggling “to get the cultural and linguistic requirements of every student met” despite increasing funding for Native American students, the governor said. “The fact that we are not doing it for you means that we have to provide more support for your school, to you and to your daughter,” Lujan Grisham said before encouraging the speaker to meet with her Education secretary, Ryan Stewart, who sat a few feet from his boss on stage.  The moment showcased one New Mexico family’s obstacles and served as a reminder that stories such as these likely aren’t rare in a state where a majority of the state’s public school students qualify for at least one risk factor.  Lujan Grisham and state lawmakers return to Santa Fe this month with that reality in mind after pumping a half a billion additional dollars last year into the public education system, which takes up nearly half of the state budget. 

Claudia Sanchez, a fourth grade dual language teacher at at Mesquite Elementary, explains how to round numbers in Spanish this fall.

Budget Boom: 21st century ‘gold rush’ fuels long wish list for schools, infrastructure

We pick up where our story left off last year. As in 2019, we find New Mexico’s fortunes glittering in a 21st-century version of a gold rush in the oil-rich southeast as state lawmakers prepare for the 2020 30-day session. 

Policy makers will have about $800 million more in revenue than this year’s state budget to work with when crafting the state’s spending plan for the fiscal year that starts July 1. In an election year like 2020, it’s easier to partition a surplus than to cut programs and services, as state leaders discovered a few years ago in 2016 after a freefall in tax revenue forced painful choices. “We’re lucky to have the kind of revenues that are coming into the state,” Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham told an audience last month at an Albuquerque town hall.  

There’s always a “but,” however, and Lujan Grisham didn’t disappoint. After acknowledging New Mexico’s gilded economic forecast, she recited a backlog of needs..“Our roads aren’t safe.

Help us create journalism for Albuquerque’s Native American population

Albuquerque is home to one of the largest urban Native populations in the country. And yet you rarely see sustained, quality journalism about this community.That changes next year.Starting in June of 2020, New Mexico In Depth will embark on a reporting project that centers Albuquerque’s Native American population thanks to Report for America, a national program that pairs host newsrooms with ambitious reporters. NMID has been selected as one of RFA’s host newsrooms in 2020-2021. NMID proposed to cover a population that intersects with many of the complex challenges confronting New Mexico. There is much reporting to do – about resilience, about creativity, about a continuing effort to empower younger generations through culture and language retention. And, yes, about the thorny problems that disproportionately affect Native communities.   New Mexico’s underserved populations deserve quality news coverage. This grant pays in part for a new reporter for this worthy project, about half of his or her salary and benefits. NMID must raise the balance.So here’s where you come in. We’re asking you to help us financially.

Redistricting in NM explained in 14 minutes

Check out Gwyneth Doland hitting the highlights of the report she did for us on the state’s history of redistricting on the latest episode of New Mexico In Focus, which aired this weekend. For those not up on what redistricting entails, every 10 years New Mexico state lawmakers are assigned the task of redrawing district lines on the map for the Legislature, the U.S. House and other offices, based on population changes the U.S. Census Bureau records. But New Mexico’s redistricting process isn’t governed by many rules and it’s done largely out of the public eye, Gwyneth found. After you watch the New Mexico In Focus segment, read Gwyneth’s report and essay to learn more about this arcane process. We promise you’ll feel better informed about one of the most important jobs our Legislature performs.

Trump tweets beg the question, what kind of country do we want?

I wrote the following essay for NMID’s weekly newsletter and am posting it on NMID because I believe we as a country must have a conversation about race. Our president, and his actions, are forcing us to. In a democracy, which relies on a vigorous competition of ideas and viewpoints, one of journalism’s duties is to prompt and join in on discussions about uncomfortable subjects. And race, at least for a significant portion of our country’s population, is uncomfortable.  Hopefully this essay will invite such a discussion. Feel free to comment, but keep it respectful.

Governor signs into law legislation to prevent another behavioral health scandal

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed into law this week a bill (SB41) that ensures service providers accused of overbilling or defrauding Medicaid can review and respond to allegations of wrongdoing before state action is taken.  

It’s a response to the bombshell announcement the administration of Gov. Susana Martinez made in June 2013. That summer, the Human Services Department publicly accused 15 organizations treating New Mexicans for addiction and mental illness of overbilling Medicaid by up to $36 million. There was even a chance, the agency said, the organizations had defrauded the government’s health insurance program for low-income people. The organizations weren’t allowed to review or respond to audit findings that led to the allegations – a break with normal auditing practices – or dispute the state Human Services Department’s decision to cut off Medicaid funding to a dozen or so of the 15 providers.

Governor and Democrats bask in session successes

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham celebrate the end of the 60-day session in a jubilant mood. Republicans had a different experience of the session. Photo credit: Trip Jennings

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham wrapped up her first session with the Legislature Saturday agreeing to the most significant increase in public school spending in decades and putting New Mexico in the hunt once again for leadership in the nation’s “green” movement. A three-term congresswoman and former state cabinet secretary, Lujan Grisham began talking about a “moonshot” for education before she was sworn in as governor. No one expected a “moonshot” overnight, although to hear the governor Saturday, her first session behind her, she seemed ready for Mars.