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SB 1 kneecaps NM’s great charter schools

Once again, New Mexico’s public education old guard is prioritizing systems over students and self-interest over families.

With New Mexico’s 54th legislative session only days in, the education establishment has staked claim on a predictably regressive policy agenda. First up is Senate Bill 1, sponsored by senators Mimi Stewart, Gay Kernan and Bill Soules – making this a true bipartisan fiasco.

Misleadingly named “Public Education Changes,” at 48 pages, over 9,000 words and 28 sections, this bill is a whopper intended to fundamentally distort public education in New Mexico. Unfortunately for families and educators across the state, the picture the bill’s authors have in mind is 50 years in the past, when districts ran impenetrable monopolies.

Back to when families received little information about the performance of students or schools. Back to when districts were free to abdicate training and support for teachers. Back to when we turned a blind eye to schools failing entire generations. And back to a time when parents had one public school option, based on their zip code.

Perhaps the most troubling aspect of this ill-conceived omnibus bill is the underhanded attack on public charter schools, and the educators, families and students in their walls. Cynically couched in the ruling of Yazzie v. Martinez, SB 1 is a shameless attempt, years in the making, to suffocate charter schools in New Mexico.

For the key passage, scroll down to page 20, section 9.d. For folks who talk nonstop about “local control,” a bill mandating that “the maximum (students) in each charter school shall be determined by the (NMPED)” is top-down and the opposite of community focused. All those years of bashing NMPED as being heavy-handed are suddenly water under the bridge. What a difference a few months makes.

Since there’s an urge to limit something, how about a maximum number of students in any school who aren’t reading or doing math on grade level? Or a limit on how many years a school can have single-digit reading proficiencies? Those are caps I’d get behind.

Instead, lead sponsor Stewart decried NMPED’s intervention at Whittier Elementary last year, even after earning seven consecutive “F”s. This tired game of blaming poor, hard-working families and then trying to denigrate any school or district that disproves that mythos must come to an end.

Charter schools vary in quality like any other school. Still, according to U.S. News & World Report, four out of the top nine high schools in New Mexico are public charters. And, unlike districts, poor performing charters are closed, going from 103 to 93 schools over the past three years.

Yet, even with tens of thousands of New Mexico families on waiting lists, SB 1 would cap the number of students able to select charter schools to 27,000; we currently have just over 26,000. This is a larger population of students than Santa Fe Public Schools, by double. By design, SB 1 prevents the expansion of existing or growth of new charter schools.

SB 1 also creates two classes of students: those who go to district schools and get more funding, and students choosing public charter schools who get less. And we thought “separate but equal” was long gone. Simply another attempt to revert NM public education based on revisionist history.

Make no mistake, SB 1 is a political play meant to severely hamstring some of New Mexico’s best schools. This is what Albuquerque Public Schools, the Albuquerque Teachers Federation, the National Education Association-NM and Santa Fe Public Schools have been counting on – and bankrolling – for years. It’s a thuggish mentality that says, “If you can’t beat them, squash them.”

Kneecapping some of our state’s best public schools as political quid pro quo is not how we help all schools better educate students most in need of responsive education environments. Instead of doing the hard work of closing bad schools, SB 1 seeks to limit good schools and family options. It’s bad policy and bad-faith legislating.