There’s one thing most New Mexico policy makers and advocates seem to agree on as we barrel toward the 2020 legislative session on Jan. 21: Despite boosting pay for teachers and other public school employees in 2019, they’re not finished yet. Where the difference comes is in how much of an increase is needed and sustainable. Another easy observation? Education will be the key conversation at the Roundhouse, despite hot button additions like the “red flag” gun legislation Lujan Grisham proposed again Thursday in Las Cruces and the debate over legalizing recreational cannabis.
There is no question that 2018’s Yazzie Martinez education lawsuit has changed the conversation on education in New Mexico.
Yes, there is still the constant discussion about the state’s dead last ranking in education, but the ruling by District Judge Sarah Singleton that the state is failing its constitutional duty to educate at-risk students put some legal force behind demands of advocates that the state do something about it. The future of education in light of the lawsuit was probably the biggest issue in the 2018 governor’s race. And it was behind the nearly half-billion in extra funding allocated by the 2019 Legislature for the state’s public schools. Despite that cash infusion, advocates say the state didn’t do nearly enough in 2019, and are pushing lawmakers to do much more to transform the education system. Southern New Mexico, because of its distance, is often left out of the conversation. But last week Ngage New Mexico, a Las Cruces-based education nonprofit, and Transform Education New Mexico, a coalition that came of out the Yazzie Martinez case, teamed up to look at what opportunities lie ahead for the state in education.
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.”