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Education Cuts Are No Solution

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Ink and paper are being wasted by the Journal in calling for school “reform” and suggesting that Gov. Susana Martinez’s proposals as the reform we need.

I notice the Journal ignores Martinez’s budget cuts for education. Yet she has already broken her campaign promise to keep budget cuts out of the classrooms. She proposed cutting 1.5 percent of the education budget and ended up cutting double that.

Due to her policies the ax has fallen deeply on the 2011-2012 APS budget, and it might be useful to see what this means at the school level in the classroom.

At the APS high school where I’ve taught for the last seven years, we had nine teachers retire and none are being replaced. We were being told no layoffs would happen, but classroom student loads would be increased. Eventually, a science position and two DECA (business/marketing) positions were cut and now those teachers hope to find jobs at other schools, or worse, join the unemployment line. Other high schools have had deeper teacher cuts.

So in the coming year, instead of 30 to 35 students in a classroom there may be 35 to 40. That means more students don’t get the individual attention they need; it means more students will drop out.

It means more stress and workload for teachers who are already stressed due to an increase in responsibilities for the last eight years due to the No Child Left Behind law. It means more seasoned teachers will retire, more new teachers will not enter or will leave the field after a few years.

In my case, a 19-year veteran of public school teaching, I haven’t had a pay raise in four years. In fact I’ve had pay cuts when you factor in inflation and an increase in pension and health premiums. Morale is low, anxiety is high and the future looks bleak, especially when considering what Martinez has in store.

With the New Mexico education budget Martinez implemented she has compounded the problem when she refuses to fund education and calls for a 3 percent cut and tries to argue that districts can cut administrative costs and it shouldn’t affect the classroom. She is practicing pure conservative, partisan, voodoo economics with no basis in reality.

Martinez is following the national conservative playbook, which calls for cutting budgets for public schools, declaring them a failure then proposing shifting to vouchers and other failed market solutions. Despite Martinez’s assurances cuts, have reached the classrooms.

Moreover, when she wants to grade schools, retain third-graders if they haven’t learned to read by third grade and implement merit pay for teachers, she is increasing the need for more education revenue to implement these programs, yet offering nothing but hollow promises to fund them.

Do we need education reform in New Mexico? Of course. But Martinez’s proposals are offering a cure worse than the disease.

There is no getting around the need to raise revenue for education by increasing taxes on the wealthy, closing tax loopholes that allow big national corporations to escape paying taxes in New Mexico by a bookkeeping maneuver. It’s a simple matter of economic justice.

Despite it all, teachers soldier on and do remarkable jobs because they care deeply about their students. But the message for teachers is “do more with less.” That will take its toll eventually.

Teachers are doing their part. Now how about some candor, honesty and support from the governor’s office instead of right-wing dogma?

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