New Mexico Legislature 2017 is preoccupied with budget woes. While the picture changes daily, the following highlights summarize some of what has been happening.
In order to balance the state budget, Governor Susana Martinez recently signed into law a bill that takes 46 million dollars from cash reserves of schools around the state. Senator John Arthur Smith, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said, “This definitely will impact the classroom” (Oxford, Jan. 31, 2017, Nmpoliticalreport.com).
Senate Bill 290 proposes shorter school days or a shorter school year in case of financial emergency for the state’s schools, as some school districts claim they won’t have the money to meet expenses while waiting for reimbursements without their cash reserves (McKay, Feb. 3, 2017, Abqjournal.com).
Still under consideration is New Mexico House Bill 114, which represents the most recent attempt to force schools to retain students who are not proficient in reading at the end of third grade. The bill is currently being considered by the House Education Committee.
Some legislators are introducing bills to dismantle some of the governor’s education reform policies. One bill hopes to replace the state’s education secretary with an elected statewide board of education (Burgess, January 29, 2017, Abqjournal.com). HB 350, which was meant to reduce test results from 50% to 40% of a teacher’s evaluation, did not make it past the House Education Committee; teachers’ unions are relieved, as they didn’t want such a high number codified into state law. House Bill 241 is meant to keep teachers from being penalized in their evaluations if they use over three of their allotted sick days in a given year. Many teachers testified in favor of the bill, pointing out that the current system encourages teachers to work even when they are ill. Further, they expressed fear that the existing evaluation system discourages teachers from staying in the state. Under the current system, very few teachers are ranked “highly effective” or “exemplary” (Burgess, February 12, 2017, Abqjournal.com).
In the wake of recent ICE raids in southern New Mexico, which have caused fear among the state’s immigrant population, NMSU Chancellor Garrey Carruthers sent out the following words in his February 20, 2017 issue of Chancellor’s Corner:
NMSU will not tolerate harassment of students or employees for any reasons, and we are especially committed to protecting staff, students and faculty from harassment related to immigration status, national origin, religious affiliation or ethnicity.
Chancellor Carruther’s wrote that he supports NMSU DACA students and offers that same support to all NMSU students, “no matter where a student or an employee was born.”
Language arts teaching and learning in the state K-16 are potentially impacted by all of these actions, whether budget cuts, proposals to retain students who don’t test well in reading, proposed changes to the current teacher evaluation system, or public announcements of support for DACA students who must currently weigh the risks of appearing on school campuses and in public in the coming weeks and months.