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.
Gone are the days of chalkboards – and even whiteboards – in schools. The Las Cruces Public Schools district has slowly transitioned into using more technology, such as Promethean boards — fully digital smart screens that can connect to a computer to be used as a projector or writing board. And class textbooks and curriculum in many cases are fully online. That means students need access to the internet and a computer to do schoolwork, which is a challenge for many in Las Cruces. Twenty-two percent of LCPS students don’t have an internet subscription, meaning no data plans, broadband or any other type of service, according to 2017 data from the U.S. Census Bureau.
January will mark two years since Lynn Middle School in Las Cruces re-imagined itself. A walk around classrooms and its cafeteria reveals signs of the metamorphosis.
On any given weekday students drop in for healthy snacks or warm clothes in the school’s community room. Parents have access to computers, WiFi and office supplies to apply for jobs. Families and neighbors stop in for staples at a monthly food pantry operated by Roadrunner Food Bank.
The countdown to Election Day has begun. With less than a week to go, nearly a quarter of New Mexico’s registered voters have already cast ballots. But that still leaves the vast majority of voters with decisions to make. For voters who place a high importance on education — and a September Albuquerque Journal poll found nearly seven in 10 New Mexicans consider the quality of public school education a “very serious” problem — New Mexico In Depth rounded our previous coverage about Republican Steve Pearce and Democrat Michelle Lujan Grisham’s stances on education, as well as other outlets’ coverage to see if they expanded on or modified their views on the state’s education problems as their campaigns have progressed. Early childhood education
This area in the one where the two candidates have shown the starkest differences.
HOBBS – The alarm rings at 3 a.m., and Ronell Mangilit is the first one up in a house shared with four fellow teachers. He prepares breakfast, writes up the day’s math lesson, and puts on a button-down shirt, a tie and crisply pressed slacks. Then it’s off to teach the children of New Mexican oil rig workers — arriving in his sixth-grade classroom by 7:20 sharp. It’s a job no American wanted, but one the 30-year-old Filipino was willing to pay thousands of dollars to get. Armed with a PhD in math education and a promise to a deceased brother, Mangilit borrowed the equivalent of a year’s salary in the Philippines — roughly $9,000.
Four recruiting agencies have sprung up in New Mexico. Each is run by a working teacher, a recently resigned PED employee, a district superintendent, or the close relative of a superintendent. Such close relationships to the school system give recruiters an edge in helping immigrant teachers navigate licensure and hiring protocol. But they also raise concerns about conflicts of interest and ethics violations. Total Teaching Solutions International (TTSI) is run by Janice Bickert, wife of Ruidoso Municipal Schools superintendent George Bickert.
Guest worker programs have long been shadowed by middlemen: the brokers, recruiters and labor contractors who serve as a bridge between workers abroad and employers in the U.S. While some charge a reasonable fee to deliver necessary services, exploitation is prevalent. Several court cases have taken down unscrupulous guest worker schemes. Among them:
In 2012, a federal jury awarded $4.5 million to Filipino teachers who paid a California placement agency up to $16,000 for $40,000-a-year teaching positions in Louisiana public schools. A jury found that the recruiter failed to properly disclose fees to 350 teachers. A 2011 settlement required the public school district in Maryland’s Prince George’s County to reimburse Filipino teachers $4 million, after a U.S. Labor Department investigation.
The education community in Roswell is stepping up to ensure their children are ready to learn as they enter elementary school. In the process, they just may be creating a blueprint to early childhood expansion for rural areas throughout New Mexico.
School funding lawsuits are usually long legal slogs, but New Mexico’s timeline could be shortened by years. Late this morning, Democrat Michelle Lujan Grisham was the first candidate for governor to say she would not continue a legal battle over whether the state is meeting its financial obligations to adequately educate children. And she called on current Gov. Susana Martinez to not appeal a landmark judicial decision against the state last week. “For too long, our education system has failed our children, educators, families and communities, drastically undermining our economy and our public safety while straining our overburdened social services. Today, I am calling on Governor Martinez to publicly commit to not appealing the landmark education lawsuit decision,” said Michelle Lujan Grisham.
A jovial crowd shaded by large trees and within sight of an Albuquerque public school gathered Monday to celebrate a court ruling that many were hailing as vindication of what they had been saying for years. On Friday, State District Judge Sarah Singleton ruled New Mexico guilty of shirking its constitutional duty to adequately educate at-risk students. The ruling, which represented a sound defeat for Republican Gov. Susana Martinez and her Public Education Department, is not the last word. The agency said late Monday it will appeal. “Unfortunately, the judge missed the boat with this ruling,” Public Education Secretary Christopher Ruszkowski said, adding that the state has invested in programs that “have been proven to improve student success.”
But the possibility of an appeal earlier in the day wasn’t about to puncture Monday’s celebratory mood.