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Editorial: Metro Court texts work; schools missed that lesson

The mission of New Mexico’s public schools is delivering an education. But the people who run them sure could take a lesson from Metropolitan Court in Albuquerque.

The court has rolled out an incredibly effective and inexpensive way of notifying defendants by texting them notice of upcoming hearings. Not only has it cut the “no show” rate roughly in half for the initial 8,600 defendants who got text notices, it’s costing just $800 a year for the entire program versus about $100 to process and serve every bench warrant for someone who fails to appear. Then there are the fines and other consequences, including possible incarceration, that can pile up on a defendant who doesn’t show up for court.

In 2018 it just makes sense. As Chief Judge Edward Benavidez points out, “you have your dog set for grooming, and you get a reminder.”

The program was launched in April 2017 and initially was available only in traffic and misdemeanor cases. The court expanded it to felony cases in April, and Benavidez says the court is considering implementing the program in civil cases as well. In those cases, for example, a notice could prevent a default judgment by getting a defendant into court.

“I think it’s just a common courtesy that all of the courts should extend to anybody that has to deal with the criminal justice system,” Benavidez says. Kudos to the court for a smart, new way to address an old problem.

So it’s obvious this same technology would be a good way for public schools to address rampant truancy and perhaps inform parents of upcoming tests and let them know their student is struggling. But obvious doesn’t get things done in New Mexico. There’s a reason our education system is routinely at the bottom of the good lists.

A bipartisan bill in this year’s Legislature that would have required a texting program died thanks to opposition from Albuquerque Public Schools, the teachers’ unions and a school board association.

The exceptionally lame rationale was that the program could create inequalities because some parents may not have smartphones and some school districts may not have enough money to carry out the text messaging. By that reasoning, school districts shouldn’t have computers because some students may not have computers in their homes. And while it may be true some districts may not have the resources needed to carry out the texting program, it would have been worth getting the ball rolling and figuring out how to cover the cost for those school districts that don’t currently have the capability.

And this opposition to the legislation by Rep. Nate Gentry, R-Albuquerque and Sen. Daniel Ivy-Soto, D-Albuquerque, was in the face of data from a Columbia University study that found text message alerts elsewhere about missing assignments, grades and class absences reduced student course failures by 38 percent and increased class attendance by 17 percent.

If kids were actually in class and parents in the loop, think of the difference that could make in these kids’ education.

The public shouldn’t be fooled. The texting programs are economically responsible and they work. Just ask Chief Judge Benavidez.

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.