Young children listen to a teacher as part of the summer K-3 Plus program. It was a good year for education. Whether it was great depended on who you asked. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and legislative leaders, both Democratic and Republican, extoled investments New Mexico made in education Saturday as the 60-day session came to a close. “This is a Legislature that delivered a moonshot,” the governor nearly shouted during a post-session press conference in her Cabinet Room on the fourth floor of the Roundhouse.
Celina Corral, right, with the Empowerment Congress , teaches a class on cultural diversity at Lynn Middle School, Wednesday on Dec. 5, 2018. The Empowerment Congress is one of Lynn’s community partners. A bill that would put New Mexico children’s heritage and culture at the center of education is racing to the finish line along with the 2019 legislative session. Co-sponsored by Rep. Tomas Salazar, HB 159 would set up a parallel structure in the Public Education Department to support the Bilingual Multicultural Education, Indian Education and Hispanic Education acts.
The House and Senate on Tuesday both overwhelmingly passed multimillion dollar education bills that are in large part an answer to the Yazzie Martinez funding lawsuit that found New Mexico was shortchanging at-risk students in violation of the state Constitution. The nearly identical bills, which will now have to be reconciled in a committee from both chambers, put about $337 million toward raises for teachers and other educators, extend the school year by 25 days for up to 91,000 elementary school students and more than double dollars dedicated to those at-risk students: low-income, English language learners and Native American students. “This bill is a once in a lifetime game-changer for all the students across the state. While many components of House Bill 5 address the requirements of the recent lawsuit, there are multiple dimensions that will have far reaching impact over decades to come,” House Floor Leader Sheryl Williams Stapleton, a co-sponsor of the bill, exhorted forcefully as she called for a vote. “For example, by doubling the at-risk funding factor, schools will make important decisions that will fit their students to help them be successful.”
The bill passed that chamber successfully by 53-14.
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.
A person would have to live under a rock to have missed New Mexico’s gilded fortunes over the past few months. You have to go back years to find New Mexico sitting on more than a $1 billion surplus. In a normal year, the historic windfall would provoke dueling choruses: fund what you can while you have the money versus save the money for a rainy day. But 2019 is not a normal year. The dueling choruses will still try to drown each other out as lawmakers meet in Santa Fe to draft a state budget.
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.
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.