What new education secretary should know about New Mexico

Newly appointed Education Secretary Ryan Stewart, left, visits the Native American Community Academy in Albuquerque with the school’s founder, Deputy Secretary Kara Bobroff, on Aug. 13. (Public Education Department via Twitter)

If classroom teachers and education advocates could sit down with new Education Secretary Ryan Stewart, they would tell him to just listen. That’s the consistent message from two teachers at Las Cruces Public Schools – one who has taught for seven years, and another for 30 years, and two leaders of education nonprofits — one a member of the Transform Education New Mexico coalition of that formed out of the Yazzie Martinez education lawsuit, and another a former director of outreach in the Martinez administration’s Public Education Department. Stewart, who is African American, and was the regional director of a nonprofit that works to improve education for low-income and minority students, takes the helm weeks after Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham fired Karen Trujillo from the post after just six months on the job.

Institute will take effort to combat child trauma statewide

Las Cruces City Councilor Kasandra Gandara is bringing together behavioral health, education, community organizing, child wellbeing and health groups in an effort to gather data on Adverse Childhood Experiences and use that information to combat childhood trauma. Tackling childhood trauma in a data-driven, community-based fashion went from an idea to an institute within the space of a year. Las Cruces City Councilor Kasandra Gandara knew from her years as a social worker at the Children Youth and Families Department that even front line workers in child protective services, faced with the hardest cases of abuse and neglect, were not aware of or trained in the theory of Adverse Childhood Experiences and the lifelong effects they have on health and learning. So when she read the book, “Anna, Age Eight: The Data-driven Prevention of Childhood Trauma and Maltreatment,” written by Katherine Ortega Courtney and Dominic Cappello, from research done at CYFD, she embarked on a mission to use data to prevent the heart-breaking instances of abuse she witnessed first-hand in Las Cruces and Dona Ana County. That project has grown swiftly.

Early childhood department has governor’s backing

A child plays with beads in a New Mexico PreK classroom. A proposal for an Early Childhood Education and Care Department would bring together all children’s program for children ages 0 to 5 into the department, including New Mexico PreK administered both the Public Education Department and the Children Youth and Families Department. (Xchelzin Pena/New Mexico In Depth)

It was a powerhouse show of support last week for a plan to create an Early Childhood Education and Care Department. “Any other Cabinet secretaries here?,” Sen. Jeff Steinborn, D-Las Cruces, asked during public comment Feb. 13 on Senate Bill 22, which would create a department focused on providing education and services for children from birth to age 5.

Ambitious renewable goals on deck as new political era dawns in New Mexico

New Mexico was in the first wave of states to require gradually increasing amounts of renewable energy such as wind, solar and geothermal to power its electrical grid. Signed into law in 2004, the state’s Renewable Energy Act required private utilities to ensure that 20 percent of the electricity they provide to consumers comes from those sources by 2020. Since then, what was once a novel idea has gone mainstream. Twenty-nine states, the District of Columbia, and three territories have similar laws. More than half have higher goals than 20 percent.

Education comes to a head in 2019: Will lawmakers pass the test?

 

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.

Herrell headed to victory in 2nd Congressional District

With Tuesday night coming to a close, it appeared Republican Yvette Herrell was heading toward victory in one of the state’s premier races. The 2nd Congressional District had been one of the races to watch, with the future control of the U.S. House hanging in the balance, but Democrats took control without needing the vast southern New Mexico district.   

As of 11 p.m., Herrell was leading Xochitl Torres Small by about 51.6 percent to 48.4 percent in the race, with 355 out of 501 precincts reporting. Herrell gave a victory speech around 10:45 p.m., while Torres Small was mingling with the crowds at the Democratic watch party in Las Cruces awaiting final results from Doña Ana County. Observers long said the race could be a nail biter and it didn’t disappoint, with the margin between Herrell and Torres Small on Tuesday seemingly about who turned out more voters.

Face-painting at NEA rally

It’s a turnout race for Congress. Can Dona Ana County come through?

The TV and social media ads have all been placed. Mailboxes have no more room for political mailers. In these final days of Election 2018, everything now hinges on how many people vote in the race for the 2nd Congressional District of southern New Mexico — one of the most expensive in the state and which is garnering national attention and money because of its potential to shift power in the U.S. House. Who will win this decisive battle in a race rated a toss-up between Democrat Xochitl Torres Small or Republican Yvette Herrell? The answer likely lies with turn out.

New web portal launched for tracking money in politics

There’s a new web portal for tracking who’s behind the money in elections, a task that can be arduous. 

For New Mexico voters, the primary sources of campaign finance data are the websites of the New Mexico Secretary of State and the Federal Election Commission. And at the federal level there are also reports filed by broadcasters with the Federal Communications Commission that show who is buying airtime for television ads. Called “NAB” reports, which stands for National Association of Broadcasters, these are often the first sign one has of a group planning to spend money in an election. But searching those filings on the FCC site is onerous. The Center for Responsive Politics, or opensecrets.org, has pulled all of the reports filed by New Mexico broadcasters into a user-friendly portal.

Dunn: Land commissioner candidates won’t hold Oil & Gas accountable

Outgoing State Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn grew up on an apple farm near Alamogordo and worked for 25 years in banking. He characterizes the land commissioner’s job as one of handling a thousand different things and managing almost 200 people in ways that draw from both his business background and his familiarity with land and conservation issues. He has been accused of rubber-stamping oil and gas drilling on state lands, but he argues his record shows otherwise. “As land commissioner, you have a constitutional duty to create income from lands and protect it for future generations — it’s a dual purpose,” says Dunn, who accessorizes his suit and tie with ostrich cowboy boots and lapel pins of the U.S. and “Don’t Tread on Me”-emblazoned Gadsden flags. “It’s got to be a balance: conservation and oil and gas.”

He points to a policy switch around no longer allowing wells into the Ogallala Aquifer for oil and gas operations and his fight for Texas hornshell mussel habitat as examples.