I know it’s popular in some circles to attack Gov. Susana Martinez as anti-teacher and claim that her education reforms aren’t working.
But let me tell you, as a teacher from a family of teachers, those smears don’t reflect the facts. Gov. Martinez has a record that demonstrates she cares about teachers and the students we teach.
With Teacher Appreciation Week behind us, I want New Mexicans to know the truth about Gov. Martinez — not manufactured criticism coming from her opponents. Gov. Martinez took office during challenging times but has continued to be an advocate for education reform. She has protected classroom spending, brought much-needed accountability to our schools and she even raised our pay. Most importantly, her reforms are improving education.
In discussing Gov. Martinez’s accomplishments on education, it’s best to start by highlighting the tremendous challenge she faced when she took office. Her critics should remember this: Then-Gov. Bill Richardson left her the largest structural budget deficit in state history. Pundits predicted she’d have to break her campaign promises. They said she would have to raise taxes and cut education spending to plug the budget gap, but she proved them wrong.
With her strong leadership, she balanced the budget without raising taxes, and she protected Medicaid for our most vulnerable. And she did it while protecting classroom spending.
Many of her critics have engaged her in political warfare, impeding her every attempt to reform education and give more of our kids the chance to achieve their potential. Let me make it very clear: These critics don’t speak for me and don’t speak for thousands of my colleagues around the state.
There’s absolutely no question that education reform was badly needed. Thanks to decades of failed policies, New Mexico is near the bottom of the national rankings in education.
Here’s the good news: Gov. Martinez is moving things in the right direction. With her leadership, she has brought more accountability to our schools. You’ll hear a lot of talk about how accountability is unfair. That’s just nonsense.
In almost every profession, people are judged based on their performance. Until Gov. Martinez entered office, there was very little accountability in our schools. Given how important it is to educate kids, it was appalling that we didn’t have adequate standards to ensure our children were getting the education they deserve. We should applaud the governor for treating us like professionals by implementing more accountability.
And then there’s the question of pay. Gov. Martinez has a great record on that, too. This year, she pushed to give starting teachers a 10 percent salary increase. The Democratic-controlled Legislature cut her proposal and gave us 6.7 percent. In addition, Gov. Martinez gave every teacher a 3 percent pay increase this year. On top of that, excellent teachers in some school districts will now get extra pay in recognition of their efforts.
The best thing about Gov. Martinez, however, is that her reforms are improving education. Reading scores are up across grade levels and throughout the state, especially for those who have participated in her special “Readers Raise the Roof” seminars. Math proficiency is up, too. And she’s helping close the achievement gap. Hispanics in New Mexico do better on Advanced Placement tests than anywhere else in the country.
It’s extremely difficult to argue with these facts. Thanks to Gov. Martinez, education is better in New Mexico, and teachers like me have been given appreciation in the form of greater pay.
So let’s stand behind her — Democrats and Republicans alike — while she continues to improve education in our great state.
(State Rep. Tim Lewis represents District 60 in Rio Rancho. He has served in the House since 2011.)