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Put some education funding in NM parents’ hands

As New Mexico and the nation as a whole work to recover stronger from the coronavirus pandemic, we have to evaluate events of the last year and apply lessons going forward. For millions, this has been traumatic, and it isn’t over yet. Many have lost loved ones and livelihoods. Plans for a promising future have been set back. We need to develop and put in place reforms that promote prosperity and help ensure that any future pandemic does less damage than this one.

One critical policy area we know can be improved is education.

Every Hispanic family, like all families, appreciates the importance of a good education. My parents – like so many others – helped me understand from a young age that along with hard work and discipline, it’s a key to success for each future generation. They worked and sacrificed to make sure I had the opportunity to learn and succeed.

To make sure all our kids can access the education they deserve, we must help them find their strengths and interests – to see what fascinates and motivates them. That’s the key to developing their talents and ensuring that they become lifelong learners. When we help young people unlock their talents, we create a way for them to enrich both their own lives and the lives of those around them. For me, arts and music were among my passions from an early age, and I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to pass those along as a college instructor.

The pandemic and the lockdowns that followed have made that much harder.

Last summer, 81% of Latino parents in New Mexico expressed concern their children would fall behind in their education because of the turn away from in-person education and toward remote learning. And according to a state legislative analysis published in October, those fears were well-founded. As many as four in five students in the state were failing at least one class.

Some states have responded by expanding the tools available to families to supplement their kids’ formal education. Idaho is among those that have used emergency federal education funds to directly empower parents and families to pay for education expenses kids need to keep learning during the unprecedented schooling disruption.

Here in New Mexico, Rep. Zach Cook, R-Ruidoso, has introduced House Bill 292, which would provide Education Freedom Accounts for every New Mexican student, and House Joint Resolution 11, an amendment to allow for funding of these accounts. Together, these measures would give families access to a portion of the funding that the state allocates for their child. It would authorize them to spend on things such as tutoring, standardized test fees, online education programs, textbooks or other instructional materials, computer hardware and education software, and tuition at a school of their choice – including a career or technical school.

The Hispanic community is fully supportive of this type of reform. More than seven of every 10 Latinos recently said they would support giving parents a portion of those funds to use for home, virtual or private education if public schools do not reopen for in-person classes. A similar percentage said they would support their governor sending the funding directly to families and allowing them to choose how to use those funds to support their child’s education.

One thing is clear: The challenges in our educational system – both short term and long term – aren’t something we can ignore, hoping they’ll fix themselves. The reality is that our educational system was in need of improvement and reform before coronavirus reached our shores, and there are changes we know can help – both during the pandemic and once it’s no longer an urgent concern. The time to start on those changes is now.

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