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Gov. candidates disagree on medical cannabis at school

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

The coming months and a new governor could bring big changes to public education in New Mexico.

But what those changes look like depends on whom voters choose as their next governor, since the candidates differ on most education issues, including medical cannabis on school grounds and PARCC.

Yet the governor hopefuls do agree on teacher evaluations.

Both candidates, Democrat Michelle Lujan Grisham and Republican Steve Pearce, want to shake up teacher evaluations.

NMTEACH, the current state evaluation tool, has been controversial with teachers unions and others. Opponents say it has contributed to people leaving the education profession, while supporters say it’s a data-driven way to assess teacher performance in connection with students’ outcomes.

Teacher ratings

Lujan Grisham told the Journal she would change to an evaluation model that allows “holistic” measures of teacher performance and focuses on professional growth.

“I do not believe that the current model-based system is effectively evaluating teachers or providing the kind of feedback and support teachers need to succeed,” she wrote in an email to the Journal.

Lujan Grisham said she will work with the state Public Education Department, teachers and families to develop a system.

Pearce said he will immediately suspend the current teacher evaluation system in which student test scores make up 35 percent of most educators’ evaluations, and work with teachers, superintendents and parents to replace it.

“Ultimately, it will be up to teachers how that system is designed,” Pearce spokesman Kevin Sheridan wrote to the Journal.

School grades

However, there are stark differences in their stances on school grades and PARCC testing, two primary tools used to measure progress and proficiency that were implemented during the administration of outgoing Gov. Susana Martinez.

Pearce has said he is cautious about eliminating PARCC but wants to see fixes on turnaround time to get students’ results faster.

As for school grades, those would stay the same under Pearce.

Although Pearce’s team says he is open to look for areas to improve the school grading model, the A-F system ultimately would remain.

Lujan Grisham’s education plan includes eliminating both the PARCC test and the A-F school grading system. She would work with stakeholders to pick the next test to measure student proficiency.

She told the Journal she believes New Mexico’s current school grades focus too much on students’ PARCC scores.

“I will support laws that replace the A-F system with a stronger, more student-focused ESSA-compliant school grading system in statute, and will make sure that PED is a partner in these efforts,” she wrote.

Education lawsuit

The state’s next governor will also inherit compliance with a landmark education lawsuit ruling.

Lujan Grisham has vowed to immediately end an appeal to a judge’s ruling that said New Mexico has fallen short of meeting its constitutional requirement to provide a sufficient education to all at-risk students.

And she has said universal early childhood education in New Mexico is one of her top priorities.

As for other education remedies, she says she wants to get input from teachers, school administrators, parents and students to create a plan to address the court’s decision.

Lujan Grisham favors funding the changes through increasing the amount withdrawn from the Land Grant Permanent Fund and is open to other tax revenues.

“We also have an opportunity to bring in new revenues through tax code improvements like equalization sales tax on internet purchases, and by improving methane mitigation to bring in millions in severance taxes from natural gas,” she wrote.

Pearce has said he agrees that the public education system in the state needs an overhaul, but has not committed either way on the appeal.

“We do not know what the appeal will look like by the time he’s sworn in as governor, so it may not even matter at that point,” Sheridan said in an email to the Journal. “He has said many times he agrees with the judge’s conclusion that the state is not serving students. That said, he did not need the court to tell us that the education system is a mess. It very clearly is broken and upon taking office he will set out to fix it.”

One of his top priorities is providing school districts with the funding and autonomy to make decisions that directly affect them. To fund changes in education, Pearce says, he wants to move funding from the Public Education Department and put that money into the districts.

Medical cannabis

In October, mothers spoke to the Legislative Health and Human Services Committee to advocate for a law change that would allow medical cannabis on school grounds. It’s a medicine these mothers say helps their kids function and combat severe diagnoses.

State Sen. Candace Gould, R-Albuquerque, is working on a bill to change state law, according to Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, vice chairman of the committee.

But if that bill is passed by the Legislature, whether it is enacted will depend on the next governor.

Sheridan said Pearce does not support medical cannabis on school grounds.

The spokesman says Pearce understands and supports the use of medical cannabis in general but not at school.

“Should a student or teacher be prescribed medical cannabis, Steve Pearce believes the school district should work with the individual to find a solution that does not include medical cannabis being brought onto school grounds,” Sheridan wrote in an email to the Journal.

Lujan Grisham said she supports the medicine on school grounds as long as safety and administrative standards are established.

“For many students their ability to use medical cannabis on school grounds is the difference between being able to attend public school or not,” she wrote to the Journal.

Merit pay

Both candidates agree teacher pay is low – starting teacher pay is now $36,000 – and would re-evaluate how schools and staff are funded, but they differ on merit pay.

Sheridan told the Journal that Pearce supports merit pay, which would provide stipends to teachers who receive high marks on their state evaluations.

“Steve Pearce believes good teaching should be acknowledged and rewarded,” Sheridan wrote to the Journal.

Two major teachers unions – Albuquerque Teachers Federation and National Education Association of New Mexico – have opposed merit pay, especially if based on the current teacher evaluation system.

Lujan Grisham doesn’t believe merit pay is the solution and said raising teachers’ salaries should aim to improve retention and recruitment.

She said any other pay increases should “focus on professional development and appropriate accountability measures.”

“I do not believe that educators hold back their efforts to educate students and will provide a higher quality of education based on increased standardized-assessment-based merit pay,” she wrote in her email to the Journal.

Permanent fund

Lujan Grisham says she supports a constitutional amendment that would divert more money from the Land Grant Permanent Fund to increase funding for early childhood services.

“We know high-quality Pre-K education for three and four-year-old children makes a huge difference in cognitive and social development and long-term educational outcomes,” she wrote in response to a Journal questionnaire. “This investment pays for itself many times over.”

Pearce supports improving education but doesn’t support using permanent funds to do so.

“A raid will jeopardize our bond ratings and escalate our state budget problems,” Pearce wrote in his response. “We need to do more for children’s education on many fronts and that will require money, but not from this source.”

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