Lt. Gov. Howie Morales

Lt. governor’s next education frontier: out-of-school-time learning

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.

Planning for Early Education agency underway

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.

Lujan Grisham ouster of Trujillo raises questions

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 was not infrequent communication.

Blistering brief accuses Legislature of shorting public schools

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 drill down on response to education lawsuit

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.

Judge sees progress in state efforts on Medicaid, SNAP

U.S. District Judge Kenneth Gonzales laid out the stakes in a long-simmering lawsuit over the Human Services Department’s record of denying food stamp and Medicaid benefits to eligible New Mexicans during a status hearing Thursday at the federal courthouse in Las Cruces. U.S. District Judge Kenneth Gonzales

He’d visited the HSD office on Utah Street in Las Cruces where he had looked over cases with a front-line worker there. One client was a single mom with two kids under 6. She’d lost SNAP benefits because she had not submitted documents that apparently were already in the system. Then her family lost Medicaid benefits, even though they weren’t up for renewal, because of the decision on food stamps — something that violates federal rules.