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Editorial: PED must address audit to keep reform on track

The New Mexico Public Education Department is under fire from the state auditor for alleged lax financial management. And that is disturbing on several fronts.

First, PED is responsible for oversight of school budgets that account for around $2.5 billion in New Mexico tax dollars annually.

Second, PED is perhaps the leading driver of reform in state government. In just the first term of Gov. Susana Martinez, and under the leadership of education chief Hanna Skandera, the state has adopted a more accountable system for evaluating schools, is in the process of doing the same for teachers, and as a result has brought up student proficiencies in targeted grades and helped boost graduation rates. But reform is not an excuse for a lack of fiscal accountability.

Third, Auditor Hector Balderas seems as concerned with PED’s handling of special education funding as he is with its financial oversight of state-chartered schools. That, despite the fact the Legislature, not PED, appropriates education funds and the federal government’s questioning of state special ed funding is based on a formula that puts getting money out the door above providing quality programs that deliver results.

This focus seems skewed, considering that 185 of the 207 findings in the 2012 audit are related to the state’s more than 50 charter schools. And considering the handful of mismanagement nightmares in the state’s charter schools arena – money scandals involving nepotism and six-figure salaries – it is vital PED provide sufficient oversight to ensure trust and confidence in this important public school choice.

Balderas should prioritize the findings and place blame where it belongs. And PED should stand by its vow to work with Balderas, though officials dispute some of the audit findings.

Delivering a detailed, on-point response to taxpayers, educators, parents and students is vital to the agency returning the focus where it belongs – on reforming and improving the public education system.

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.