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Charter moratorium passes House committee

SANTA FE — A bill that would prohibit any new charter schools from opening until 2022 moved forward at the Roundhouse on Wednesday, despite opposition from parents and other ardent charter school supporters.

The proposed charter moratorium, House Bill 434, passed the House Education Committee on a 10-3 vote and now goes to House State Government, Elections and Indian Affairs Committee.

Rep. Karen Bash, left, and Rep. Christine Trujillo, both Albuquerque Democrats, listen to comments by supporters of their bill that would put a three-year moratorium on new charter schools in New Mexico. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Rep. Karen Bash, left, and Rep. Christine Trujillo, both Albuquerque Democrats, listen to comments by supporters of their bill that would put a three-year moratorium on new charter schools in New Mexico. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Rep. Christine Trujillo, D-Albuquerque, the bill’s co-sponsor, said it would provide time for the state to analyze existing charters’ academic outcomes.

“The issue is not about closing them down. The issue is about stopping for a short time new charter schools until we can recheck everything,” she said.

Matt Pahl, executive director of the New Mexico Coalition for Charter Schools, said the bill discounts the successes charters have had in the state, emphasizing that charters currently have accountability measures in place.

“In New Mexico, charter schools are entities of the state or entities of the district that authorizes them and they have the exact same financial requirements that a school district has,” Pahl said.

There are 96 charter schools in New Mexico, according to an analysis of the legislation.

Pahl said the state has the same number of charters as it did five years ago.

Clara Dominguez, a parent from Taos, speaks in a House Education Committee hearing Wednesday against a bill by Rep. Christine Trujillo, D-Albuquerque, right, that would put a moratorium on new charters.

Clara Dominguez, a parent from Taos, speaks in a House Education Committee hearing Wednesday against a bill by Rep. Christine Trujillo, D-Albuquerque, right, that would put a moratorium on new charters.

Representatives of Albuquerque Public Schools and the state Public Education Commission, the state’s two largest authorizers of charter schools, also spoke in opposition to the bill.

Art Melendres, an attorney who represents APS, said the decision to authorize a school should be up to local school boards.

Excellent Schools New Mexico, Public Charter Schools of New Mexico and the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce released poll results recently that showed 68 percent of Bernalillo County parents are against a moratorium.

Bruce Langston, president of the Mission Achievement and Success Charter School Governing Board, said he came to talk to the House Education Committee as a parent.

He said the charter moratorium bill would attack parents’ freedom of school choice.

“I’m asking you not to seriously curtail my freedom and my liberty to do what’s best for my children,” he said.

But supporters of the bill — including prominent teacher unions — say House Bill 434 is a chance to look at the landscape of charter schools, study funding in the state and review ripple effects of the charter movement, noting that the moratorium is not permanent.

Students take a test in a computer class at Mission Achievement and Success Charter School in Albuquerque on Wednesday. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

Students take a test in a computer class at Mission Achievement and Success Charter School in Albuquerque on Wednesday. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

Albuquerque Teachers Federation President Ellen Bernstein said charters have siphoned resources from other public schools and a moratorium would give a chance to evaluate this.

“I think this is a moment in time where we’re able to just stop, tap the brakes … and think about what we as a state want in terms of supporting a very diverse public school system,” she said.

Daniel Benavidez, superintendent of Zuni Public School District, who is a former charter school director, said he supports the bill because he thinks the state needs to reflect on which charters are working and which are not effective.

The New Mexico School Boards Association and the New Mexico Superintendents Association also backed the bill.

Rep. Rebecca Dow, R-Truth or Consequences, wasn’t sold, though. She questioned why the bill was necessary and what it would achieve, ultimately voting against it.

A fiscal impact report indicates a charter moratorium could result in some savings for the state.

Dassani Torres works on math during a class Wednesday at Mission Achievement and Success Charter School in Albuquerque.

Dassani Torres works on math during a class Wednesday at Mission Achievement and Success Charter School in Albuquerque.

The report says new charter schools typically take advantage of a funding component that gives extra dollars to smaller schools. But without new schools claiming that money, there could be an increase in school funding formula money, according to the report.

The report also says the budget process doesn’t always account for new charters.

“The Legislature has typically not included additional funding in the public school support budget to fund charter school growth, leading to a dilution of funding for existing charter schools and traditional public schools,” the report says.

However, the document also shows the bill would contradict the purpose of a $22.5 million federal grant the state has to spur charter development.

Proposals in previous years to enact a New Mexico charter school moratorium have stalled in the state House, but Democrats have an expanded majority in the chamber after gaining eight seats in the November general election.

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