SANTA FE — Competing approaches to improving early childhood reading proficiency in New Mexico were approved by the Senate late Monday, as debate over one of Gov. Susana Martinez’s top education initiatives continued to simmer at the Capitol.
First, members of the Senate voted 29-13 in favor of a Democrat-backed plan to provide more tutoring in reading and math to struggling students.
Then, the chamber voted 24-15 to approve a separate, more stringent measure backed by the Martinez administration.
The two bills will have to be reconciled in the House of Representatives, where they now advance, with just three days left in the 30-day legislative session before constitutional adjournment on Thursday. If both pass the House, Martinez could choose which one to sign.
“I personally don’t care whether it’s a Democratic bill or the Governor’s bill or what the message is,” said Sen. Cynthia Nava, D-Las Cruces. “What’s important is that we take action for our children.”
A spokesman for the Republican governor lauded the vote for the more stringent bill.
“The governor is pleased that meaningful education reform passed the Senate with bipartisan support and she is optimistic that the Legislature will take a strong stand in favor of ensuring that every New Mexico child can read and succeed,” Martinez spokesman Scott Darnell said.
While the two plans share similarities, they differ in one key regard.
The Martinez-backed approach, SB 96, would require third-graders who do not show proficiency in reading to repeat the grade level.
The only allowable exception could occur when the parents of a student who has participated in intervention programs petition a school principal to allow their child to advance academically.
Conversely, the Democratic-backed bill, SB 50, would allow a student’s parents, or legal guardians, to make the decision about whether that child moves on, as does current state law.
Both bills call for more assessments to determine whether a child is struggling in school as well as calling for additional tutoring or other types of remediation.
Supporters of the measure to require mandatory retention of students — ending the practice of “social promotion” — said many students who lag behind in school keep advancing because of a stigma surrounding repeating grades.
“I know parents resist retention, it’s a difficult thing to talk about with our kids,” said Sen. Gay Kernan, R-Hobbs.
New Mexico’s average reading scores for both 4th and 8th-graders were higher only than the District of Columbia’s in 2011 rankings based on the National Assessment of Educational Progress.
Martinez also pushed for legislation to curb social promotion last year.
However, that legislation did not include funding for remediation.
Some senators complained Monday the issue has become largely politicized.
“This bill has sucked the air out of this building in terms of education reform,” said Sen. Tim Keller, D-Albuquerque.
The Senate OK’d late this evening two measures aimed at improving early childhood reading proficiency in New Mexico.
The Senate voted 29-13 in favor of a Democrat-backed approach, Senate Bill 50, that calls for more tutoring for students who show insufficient reading proficiency. However, the legislation does not require such students to repeat grade levels unless their parents, or legal guardians, sign off on the decision.
A short while later, the Senate voted 24-15 to approve Martinez’s preferred legislation, Senate Bill 96. That measure is similar to SB 50, but would require 3rd graders who don’t show reading proficiency to repeat the grade level. The only exception would be when students participate in remediation programs and their parents petition a school principal for them to be able to advance.
Both bills now move to the House of Representatives. What happens there? Will find out soon enough with just three days left in the 30-day legislative session.