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.
Up to 37,000 New Mexicans will lose food aid under stricter mandates approved Wednesday by the Trump administration, the governor’s office reported. Nearly 700,000 people will be affected across the U.S.
Currently, New Mexico waives work requirements statewide for able-bodied adults without children, but under the finalized rule change it will have less flexibility to do so going forward. Without that waiver, adults ages 18 to 49 can not receive SNAP benefits for more than three months in a three year period unless they work at least 20 hours a week or participate in a job training program. The number of recipients varies by month, but the state Human Services Department said 37,164 were eligible in October 2019. The change is likely to trim $5.5 billion from the federal food stamp program across the country over five years.
If you’ve been following the efforts to build early childhood education in New Mexico over the past few years, a recently released report about a statewide needs assessment won’t hold a lot of surprises. There were the usual issues of low wages and high turnover, poor coordination among early childhood programs, lack of dependable funding and the need for higher-quality programs and greater access across every region of the state.
The New Mexico Early Childhood Development Partnership, out of United Way of Santa Fe, is in charge of a planning process for the Early Childhood Education and Care Department, with the mandate to complete a needs assessment and help put together a strategic plan for the new agency. It’s conducted a monthslong trek through the state to gather feedback.
There were, however, a couple of interesting takeaways. NMID recently published a story on poor wages for early childhood workers and teachers, and a workforce survey produced for the partnership really put some meat on those bones.
The survey reached 1,290 of New Mexico’s more than 5,000 early childhood workers. Source: New Mexico Early Childhood Development Partnership
One striking data point from the workforce survey is that a large number of high-level workers in early childhood education make less than $30,000 a year.
Lt. Gov. Howie Morales visits Las Cruces on a recent October morning to talk about his after-school learning initiative. Lt. Gov. Howie Morales was running late to an interview at the IHOP in Las Cruces.
His job these days puts him on the road a lot, but he still likes to drop his kids off at school in Silver City. That connection is something the former coach, special education teacher and state senator wants to keep with education in general.
“Education is always going to be at the heart of what I do because that’s why I got into public service,” he said on a recent October morning during a visit to Las Cruces, where he talked up a summit planned for Tuesday in Albuquerque on after-school and out-of-school time activities that would strengthen kids’ connections to school and provide more learning opportunities. As a senator, Morales got involved in the full spectrum of education, from preschool to higher education. He credited early educators in Grant County for making him understand a successful higher education system started with strong early education such as home visiting and preschool.
Images and video for this story were produced by the Las Cruces Sun-News. The sign on the door of Claudia Sanchez’s fourth grade class at Mesquite Elementary says “Welcome to Spanish Week.”
The plastic-covered sheet signals to students that this week they’re learning math, science, reading and other subjects in Spanish. It also signals that this isn’t your typical bilingual classroom.
This is one of Gadsden Independent School District’s dual language immersion classrooms, where students spend half their time in Spanish and the other half in English, and where the goal is not just to become fluent in English, but to become biliterate. In other words, to read, write, listen and speak in two languages.
Mesquite Elementary students switch back and forth between English and Spanish each week as part of a dual language bilingual program. This sign lets them know what language they will be learning and speaking in.
What does New Mexico want to achieve with its efforts in birth to age five programs, including standing up a brand new Early Childhood Education and Care Department? That’s the fundamental question Betsy Cahill, a professor of early childhood education, wants to answer. “We’re not just getting them ready for kindergarten; we’re getting them ready for life,” Cahill said.
Cahill, who is also co-director of the teacher preparation program at New Mexico State University, was taking part in the first round of community conversations taking place across New Mexico to assess gaps in early childhood programs and to come up with a strategic plan for the new department.
She had ideas on how to graduate more early childhood educators and keep them in the field, such as changing when students take qualifying exams and giving them practical experience early on so they know what they’re getting into. More than 80 people whose work touches young children attended the gathering Wednesday at Las Cruces City Hall. Among the crowd were brand-new Head Start teachers and experienced preschool directors, child care providers and foster parents, mental health specialists and educational nonprofits.
Participants were asked to identify what was working — and not — in areas such as funding, workforce development and training, New Mexico PreK and Head Start, and infant and toddler care.
There is still no secretary of Early Childhood Education and Care, but the process to launch New Mexico’s newest department is up and running with help from a $5.4 million federal preschool grant. That’s what lawmakers heard Thursday at a meeting of the Legislative Education Study Committee. “We joke that the stars aligned when this grant came about,” said Alejandra Rebolledo Rea, director of Early Childhood Services for the Children Youth and Families Department. The one-year planning grant is meant to create a comprehensive early education plan for New Mexico children from birth to age 5. When it was approved by the federal government in March, talk immediately turned to the idea of using the grant for the new early childhood department being debated in the Legislature.
Karen Trujillo, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s pick for secretary of public education, speaks during a news conference Thursday, Jan. 24, 2019, in Santa Fe. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s decision to fire Education Secretary Karen Trujillo on Monday took a lot of people in New Mexico by surprise, including Trujillo, who said she was blindsided.
It’s been three days, and some New Mexicans suspect they haven’t been given the real reason Trujillo was fired and why now.
The administration has said it was about her ability to communicate, manage and meet the governor’s expectations for transforming public education in New Mexico.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham
A spokesman initially pointed to the shaky rollout of a signature education program called K-5 Plus across the state, but the administration is beginning to walk back an effort to pin the firing on implementation of that program. Trujillo had pushed back, saying she didn’t get much direction from the governor and that she had raised alarm early on about how difficult K-5 Plus would be to implement immediately, as designed by the Legislature.
And Trujillo said if communication was deficient, it was on the part of the governor.
“It would have been nice to have a conversation with the governor where she said what her concerns were so that I could have done something about them, but that conversation never took place,” Trujillo said. Tripp Stelnicki, Lujan Grisham’s director of communications, said Trujillo heard from top administration officials from the governor’s office, including Lujan Grisham herself, about the governor’s frustration with her communications skills and leadership at the Public Education Department — and that Trujillo’s pushback comes from someone “with an axe to grind.”
This legislative session, state lawmakers pumped nearly half a billion dollars into New Mexico’s public schools. The plaintiffs in a landmark education funding lawsuit have three words to say to that:
It wasn’t enough.
In a scorching court brief filed this morning, the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty, which represents the plaintiffs in the Yazzie/Martinez vs. State of New Mexico case, said almost all of the money appropriated by the Legislature is going toward teacher salary increases. That has left little or nothing to expand programs that were specifically promoted by Judge Sarah Singleton as ways to sufficiently and equitably educate low-income, Native American, English language learner students and those with disabilities, said the Center in the brief.
The plaintiffs say the increase in education funding, when adjusted for inflation, still doesn’t bring the state back to pre-2008 funding levels.
That puts the state in direct violation, they contend, of the court order that stipulates the state rectify a failure in its constitutional duty to educate children. Lauren Winkler, staff attorney for the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty
“Unfortunately, the Legislative Finance Committee made financial decisions before education policy could be designed, so that led us to where we are now,” Lauren Winkler, an attorney with the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty, told NMID.
Lawmakers got a status report of sorts on New Mexico’s response to a landmark education court decision last year when members of the Legislative Education Study Committee met Wednesday in Santa Teresa. After a day of hearing from rural superintendents, the Transform Education NM coalition that formed after the lawsuit, and deputies from the Public Education Department about progress made toward resolving the state’s failures in educating at-risk children, it’s clear there are still a lot of questions.
Much of the discussion centered on implementation of new laws and how additional money lawmakers appropriated this year is being spent. Committee members generally were happy with teacher raises, but had pointed questions about the roll out of extended learning time programs, the way some districts handled raises and how money was being spent.
“Let’s talk about the students first. We’ve increased funding for at-risk, ELLs, special ed. That’s trickling down to the districts and I hope it’s something positive,” said Rep. Raymundo Lara of Chamberino, whose district includes the Gadsden schools where the meeting was held.