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Education committees want more say

Sunny Liu, left, of the Legislative Finance Committee, Public Education Secretary-designate Christopher Ruszkowski and Nina Caranco of the Department of Finance and Administration listen to a question during a joint meeting of the House and Senate education committees Friday. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

SANTA FE – Members of the House and Senate education committees say they want more influence over the budget proposals for public schools.

In a joint meeting Friday, they quizzed the state’s education chief, Christopher Ruszkowski, and legislative staffers about the budget recommendations proposed by Gov. Susana Martinez and the Legislative Finance Committee.

Dan McKay“Where was the input of the education community in any of this budget?” House Majority Leader Sheryl Williams Stapleton, D-Albuquerque, asked.

Sen. Craig Brandt, R-Rio Rancho, chimed in, too, noting that a joint legislative committee meets year-round on education issues.

But “when it comes to the finance part, we’re fairly ignored,” he said.

Ruszkowski, the secretary-designate of the Public Education Department, said he and his staff are listening carefully to educators across the state.

It isn’t clear what specific changes the education committee members will seek in the budget – though there was quite a bit of discussion about how much education funding should flow directly to the districts to allow for local decision-making versus how much funding should remain under state PED control.

“There are huge unmet needs in education in the state of New Mexico,” said Sen. William Soules, a Las Cruces Democrat and chairman of the Senate Education Committee. “We must do better for our children.”

Senate Majority Whip Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, asks a question during a joint meeting of the Senate and House education committees on Friday. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

BIPARTISANSHIP: It was a busy first week at the Roundhouse, and Democrats and Republicans alike were pretty nice to each other – at least in public.

The Senate, the House and Gov. Susana Martinez worked together, for example, to approve a multistate compact that allows nurses licensed elsewhere to continue practicing in New Mexico, beating a Friday deadline to join the agreement.

It was a big bipartisan win celebrated in the governor’s Cabinet room at the end of the day Thursday.

Whether that spirit of cooperation holds throughout the session remains to be seen.

House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, made it a point to tell reporters this week that he hopes to avoid the combative tone that dominates national politics and that he thinks there’s some potential for finding common ground with the Republican governor this session.

“I am disgusted by so much of what I see out of Washington – not just the dysfunction but the way people talk to each other and about others,” Egolf said.

House Minority Leader Nate Gentry, R-Albuquerque, said he hopes the compact legislation is a sign of things to come.

“When there’s a will, there’s a way,” he said Thursday. “… I hope we have an opportunity to repeat this demonstration of bipartisan cooperation many times during this session.”

Dan McKay: