Coronavirus: Lessons learned to help us weather the current situation

Yesterday as I watched Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s news conference about Covid-19 via livestream I flashed back to 2003 when Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) was sweeping the globe. The moment strengthened an urge I’ve had the past few days to think about the lessons I learned more than a decade and a half ago.At the time of the SARS outbreak, I was working in Hartford, Conn. and already pondering how diseases spread. I’d spent late 2001 and early 2002 covering anthrax after a 94-year-old woman living 10 or so miles from our family was one of five Americans to succumb to the disease. I mention anthrax only because it introduced me to epidemiology, a branch of medical science that tracks infectious diseases.

Lawmakers: Budget excludes rural, tribal voices in education

Bernalyn Via of the Mescalero Apache tribe visited the Roundhouse on Fb. 10 to lobby lawmakers. Photo credit / Trip Jennings

As the annual legislative session races to an end Thursday, think of the New Mexico Legislature as an industrial-strength strainer. Only a portion of bills will pass through. But some lawmakers are saying too many bills being filtered out come from communities that are home to students identified in the landmark Yazzie Martinez education lawsuit as shortchanged in the state’s public schools.The House of Representatives and Senate may be wrangling over last-minute changes to the state budget, but raging behind the scenes is a debate over whether the spending plan is responding to the court order that demands New Mexico educate its at-risk students better.

Governor, lawmakers tussle over funding for Ethics Commission

Last year the debate over New Mexico’s first-ever Ethics Commission was about its day-to-day running and its independence. This year it’s about money. 

And the game is on. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham wants to give the state’s independent Ethics Commission a lot more operating money than lawmakers. She recommends nearly $400,000 to help the commission get up and running in its first few months of operation. The Legislature’s request is half that.

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.