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Next governor must comply with ruling

Michelle Lujan Grisham, left, and Steve Pearce, right.

SANTA FE – Along with a Roundhouse office and a new temporary residence, whoever wins New Mexico’s race for governor in November is going to inherit the burden of complying with a landmark ruling in a lawsuit over public education funding.

Democrat Michelle Lujan Grisham and Republican Steve Pearce have both issued statements in response to Judge Sarah Singleton’s ruling, which stipulates that the state have a plan in place by mid-April to ensure all public school students are getting a sufficient education.

But the two candidates have avoided saying whether the state should appeal the judge’s ruling – and whether they would continue with a legal fight – and exactly how they would pay for an increase in state education funding.

A Pearce campaign spokesman said Monday that the Republican congressman opposes raising taxes to comply with the judge’s ruling, instead suggesting that state dollars can more efficiently be targeted at teachers and classrooms.

“The old way is broken,” Pearce said. “Throwing more money at a broken system without reforming it won’t get the job done.”

“I am confident that with pro-teacher reforms, better management and some additional funds that I will win for our schoolkids and teachers, we can meet the judge’s ruling,” he also said.

Both Pearce and Lujan Grisham have called for overhauling the state’s teacher evaluation system, specifically the use of standardized test scores to determine teachers’ effectiveness.

Lujan Grisham has left the door open to new funding sources, including taking more money from the state’s largest permanent fund, which was valued at $17.4 billion as of May.

“As governor, Michelle Lujan Grisham will be laser-focused on reforming New Mexico’s broken education system to serve all students by responsibly utilizing the Land Grant Permanent Fund, giving raises to teachers and by appointing a qualified educator as the Public Education Department secretary,” said Lujan Grisham campaign spokesman James Hallinan.

He also said Lujan Grisham, who is also forgoing a re-election bid to Congress in order to run for governor, would “not tolerate” the state failing any children.

In her 75-page ruling, District Judge Sarah Singleton did not stipulate a funding source to help pay for an improved education system, though she did identify 11 possible revenue sources.

The revenue options included using more money from the state’s permanent funds, restructuring the state’s gross receipts tax system, taxing online sales, increasing taxes on alcohol and cigarettes, and imposing a tax on hospitals and the health care industry.