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Democrats push their education plans

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SANTA FE – Less than one week after scuttling one of Gov. Susana Martinez’s top education initiatives, top-ranking Senate Democrats said Thursday that the governor should be willing to consider their proposals.

Senate Democratic Whip Tim Keller of Albuquerque called on the Martinez administration to move beyond “talking points” and consider Democratic-backed alternatives aimed at funding more teaching intervention programs for underperforming students.

“If she’s serious about compromise, she needs to engage with us on these ideas,” said Keller, who described the Democratic-sponsored bills as “bigger” and “bolder” than Martinez’s education proposals.

In response, a spokesman for the Republican governor disputed the claim and pointed out that some Democrats have supported Martinez’s education ideas.

“The idea that the governor isn’t fighting every day to bring significant reform in education is ridiculous – and strange, frankly, coming from a few lawmakers who simply repackage the failed status quo and try to label it education reform,” Martinez spokesman Enrique Knell said.

For the third year in a row, Martinez is pushing a plan to require third-graders who do not show adequate reading proficiency to repeat the grade level. The plan to end “social promotions” also calls for expanded intervention programs that would identify struggling students early and provide them with extra attention.

However, the measure was tabled Feb. 23 in a Senate committee, while a pair of Democratic-backed bills were advanced.

Sen. Linda Lopez, D-Albuquerque, who is sponsoring one of the Democratic-backed measures aimed at creating a new system of intervention programs for students struggling in both math and reading, said the bills would meet goals similar to those laid out by Martinez.

“It is my hope that she would strongly consider them and sign them,” Lopez said Thursday. “Everything pretty much that the governor wants is there.”

However, the estimated price tag for the legislation proposed by Lopez is nearly $68 million, a cost she described as a future “investment.”

A proposed $5.9 billion budget approved last week by the House includes nearly $2.6 billion for public schools. That includes money for several Martinez-backed education initiatives, such as $3 million for an experimental merit-based pay program for teachers.
— This article appeared on page A6 of the Albuquerque Journal

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