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Effort to end ‘social promotion’ stalls again

SANTA FE – Two education-related measures – including the latest attempt to pass one of Gov. Susana Martinez’s top initiatives – were stymied Friday in a House committee.

Legislation dealing with the reading proficiency of young public school students – and whether they should be retained if their reading skills are lacking – has been pushed by the state’s two-term Republican governor since she took office in 2011.

Rep. Monica Youngblood

However, the proposal has drawn unflinching opposition from teachers unions, and members of the House Education Committee voted 7-6 on Friday to table the latest measure, House Bill 210, with majority Democrats voting in favor of the motion.

The bill’s sponsor acknowledged it’s all but dead for the 30-day legislative session, which ends next week, but said she intends to keep trying on the issue.

“The fight (against the bill) is to maintain the status quo – it’s not centered around student success,” Rep. Monica Youngblood, R-Albuquerque, told the Journal.

Similar legislation backed by Martinez stalled in each of the past seven years. This year’s measure was different from previous versions in that it would give parents the final say about whether children deemed not proficient in reading should be held back in school.

However, critics said the legislation still had significant flaws, arguing that it would base student advancement decisions solely on reading instead of broader academic proficiency indicators.

“I think this takes us a step backward instead of a step forward,” said Rep. Linda Trujillo, D-Santa Fe.

Several teachers union leaders also testified in opposition to the bill, which in the past has been described as intended to address “social promotion” in schools.

Albuquerque Teachers Federation President Ellen Bernstein

Ellen Bernstein, president of the Albuquerque Teachers Federation, said retaining thousands of additional students annually could pose an additional cost to the state and questioned whether such an approach would be effective.

“When you hold someone back and they don’t socially and emotionally need to be retained, you do them more damage than good academically,” Bernstein said.

The bill considered Friday applies specifically to students in kindergarten through third grade, starting in the 2018-19 school year. It also calls for summer school, tutoring or other types of intervention for such students who are deemed to be lagging behind in reading ability.

Meanwhile, the committee also voted to table a measure, House Bill 180, aimed at ensuring more public education dollars are actually spent on classroom needs.

The bill came under fire from the New Mexico School Superintendents Association and teachers unions, which said it could undermine local authority.

“We continue to believe that getting more dollars to teachers and students in the classroom, where the actual learning take place, is an urgently needed reform,” said Fred Nathan, executive director of Think New Mexico, a Santa Fe-based think tank that pushed for the legislation.