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Editorial: Our lawmakers failed NM students – again

While many good bills made it through the 2018 Legislature, one area of dire need across our state was left off the reform list. Again.

And that’s K-12 public education.

For the eighth year running, and after numerous changes to directly address lawmakers’ concerns, the proposal to ensure our kids can read by the end of third grade was killed yet again. Lawmakers summarily rejected the bill that would have provided early diagnosis and intervention, along with parental notice, for students struggling with reading, starting in kindergarten. Parents would have the final say on whether their children should be retained a grade. Rep. Monica Youngblood’s HB 210 never got out of its first committee, House Education.

Lawmakers also again rejected programs to reduce truancy. HB 297, a bipartisan effort sponsored by Reps. Patricio Ruiloba and Jimmie C. Hall, would have had schools partner with community resources to tackle chronic absenteeism with progressive measures, from providing assistance to students and families to ultimately suspending students’ driver’s licenses. It’s been introduced in four sessions and died this time in the House State Government, Indian and Veterans Affairs Committee.

So did a new proposal, Minority Floor Leader Rep. Nate Gentry and Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto’s bipartisan HB 22, which would have notified parents by text message not only about absences but upcoming tests and poor grades, though it was resurrected as a “dummy bill” that passed the House only to die in Senate Education. And Gentry and Ivey-Soto’s plan to get students thinking about life after high school, HB 23, by requiring that they at least apply to a college or for an internship, apprenticeship or military service in order to graduate, died in the House Education Committee.

HB 219, sponsored by Youngblood and Rep. Rebecca Dow, would have finally opened the doors of grades 7-12 classrooms to adjunct instructors with at minimum of a bachelor’s degrees and five years’ experience in their field. The five-year pilot program would have allowed districts to call on local professionals to step in where there is a shortage of licensed teachers as well as increase class offerings in core subjects and electives. It has been introduced and killed in four sessions now, this year in House State Government, Indian and Veterans Affairs.

Many of these reforms have been put in place elsewhere and have produced data to show they work. Yet none gained any traction in New Mexico this year.

As for teacher pay, HB 310, which raised minimum salaries for teachers and provided for an average 2.5 percent raise, died in House Education; HB 177 by Reps. Rick Little and David Adkins, which set an alternative path to level 3 licensure, died in the House Consumer and Public Affair Committee.

And HB 180, by Reps. Youngblood, Roberto Gonzales and Larry Larranaga, which would have set a threshold for the amount districts can spend on administration vs. students and ensured more money got to classrooms, died in House Education.

So while many good bills did pass the House, it’s where education hopes and dreams went to die in 2018.

Meanwhile, Ivey-Soto and Adkins’ SB 234, which would seem to be a common-sense bill to require school employees and others allowed unsupervised access to students to undergo a fingerprint-based background check, died waiting to get to the Senate floor. It is the third year it has been introduced. And SB 58/HB 92 would have moved the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation from the Public Education Department to the Department of Workforce Solutions, which it already works closely with, to better serve job seekers and workers with disabilities and their (prospective) employers. That basic government streamlining died its third death, this time in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

So yes, it was a short, 30-day, budget-centric session. And yes, good bills made it to the governor’s desk, including more transparency for the state’s guardianship system, providing an appeals process for patients required to follow drug step therapy guidelines, funding the 2nd Judicial District DA’s efforts to combat the spike in Albuquerque crime, and approving a modest fee for pet food companies to stop the state’s out-of-control spiral of dog and cat euthanasia.

But continuing to allow our kids to move from grade to grade without the reading interventions they need and deserve, to turn a blind eye to the lifelong damage chronic truancy does and refuse to bring parents into the equation on their student’s absences and grades, to not acknowledge the empowerment that goes with helping a child formulate a plan for the next step in his or her life, to reject rewarding our teachers and dedicating more money to their classrooms, is unconscionable.

No matter what else got done.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.