ByElizabeth Miller, The Criminal Justice Project |
Jaime was just 19 years old when a fight with his girlfriend escalated from what he describes as “a lot of back and forth petty stuff” to a conflict that saw him facing misdemeanor domestic violence charges. Around the same time, he’d survived an attempted homicide and was coping with the news that his daughter was on her way. Rather than pursue a conviction, Bernalillo County Metropolitan Court offered him a pre-prosecution alternative: the Domestic Violence Early Intervention Program. As part of that program, he participated in group and individual counseling sessions and parenting classes for six months. It’s the same amount of time his daughter has been alive.
A group of individuals in neon orange t-shirts stood in the Las Cruces downtown plaza Friday afternoon singing “Olé Olé Olé Olé,” a Mexican chant usually heard at soccer games. This time, however, the singers changed the lyrics. “Olé Olé Olé Olé… Dream Act! Dream Act!”
On her third day alone in the house, 7-year-old Linda Fritts slept in her safe place in the closet. She arranged the shelves and fashioned a nest for herself atop a chest of drawers. “I would take stuffed animals in there and my books in there,” she says now. She read by flashlight, Nancy Drew or The Boxcar Children, the series about four inexplicably happy orphans who live by themselves in an abandoned freight car. “I was jealous,” Linda says.
Thirty years ago, a nonprofit report on the well-being of New Mexico’s children painted a disturbingly bleak portrait of the lives of our youngest residents. The Coalition for Children’s “Kids in Crisis: New Mexico’s Other Bomb,” released in 1987, was a compendium of doom: Twenty percent of young children in New Mexico lived in poverty; fully half of Native American children did so. More than 40 percent of students in third, fifth and eighth grades scored below average on standardized tests. Twenty-five percent dropped out of high school without graduating. New Mexico had the seventh-highest teen birth rate in the nation and the highest rate of infant mortality.
There is only a $400,000 difference between what the governor’s office and the Legislature’s budget arm are requesting for the main category of public school funding (that’s the State Equalization Guarantee, or SEG funding, for you education wonks), but there are some interesting departures in the details.
If you are a teacher, you are going to be really interested in those differences. Education Secretary-designate Christopher Ruszkowski and analysts from the Legislative Finance Committee and the Public Education Department came before a joint meeting of the Senate and House Education committees on Friday to detail their budget proposals for fiscal 2019. For teachers just starting out or who just reached a new teacher level, there could be a $2,000 salary bump in your future if the LFC gets its way, plus a 1.5 percent cost of living salary increase. If the PED plan prevails in negotiations, all teachers will receive a 2 percent across the board salary increase, with other school personnel receiving a 1 percent cost of living increase. Then, exemplary teachers would be up for a one-time $5,000 bonus and exemplary high school math or science teachers would be eligible for up to $10,000.
Say you want to run for a spot on the state Supreme Court or New Mexico Court of Appeals. How about a seat on the Public Regulation Commission? Candidates for New Mexico’s two top courts and its utility commission are eligible to apply for public dollars to finance their campaigns through the New Mexico Voter Action Act. But in 2018 those dollars won’t stretch far, Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver told state lawmakers Wednesday. That’s because it’s dramatically underfunded.
In her final State of the State address, Gov. Susana expressed her frustration over seven years of reform efforts that have been fought by some school districts and pointedly called out teachers’ unions and the Albuquerque Public Schools for dragging their heels to the detriment of students.
Reading New Mexico In Depth’s 2018 Special Legislative Edition, you might notice a glaring hole in our reporting: There is no comment or perspective from Gov. Susana Martinez or her spokespeople. It wasn’t for lack of trying by New Mexico In Depth. This column ran Sunday in our 2018 special legislative edition, in newspapers around the state, including in Santa Fe and Las Cruces. On Tuesday, New Mexico In Depth did not receive an advance copy of the governor’s speech to the Legislature, as other news outlets did. In years past we have received the text version prior to the speech, along with other media outlets.
New Mexico’s 2018 legislative session begins Tuesday. For the 4th year running we’ve created a special edition devoted to key issues legislators are sure to in one way or the other. The edition runs today in nine newspapers around the state, and we’ve published it online as well. See it in magazine form above, or read each article in print online. ———————————————————————————
New Mexico’s children have arguably taken the brunt as the state has struggled through tough budgets the past couple of years, with cuts to public schools, state colleges and programs such as home visiting and expanded school years.
But with oil and gas revenues re-bounding, could 2018 be the year of the child at the Roundhouse?