The morning after Albuquerque voters elected a new slate of school board representatives, the leader of an education nonprofit highlighted to business leaders just how much improvement is still needed for New Mexico’s beleaguered school system to catch up.
“I love the public education system in New Mexico, I just think we can do a lot better,” said Amanda Aragon, executive director of NewMexicoKidsCAN, an Albuquerque-based nonprofit that aims to improve educational outcomes across the state.
During an event hosted by the Economic Forum of Albuquerque Wednesday morning, Aragon spoke about four races for Albuquerque Public Schools Board of Education seats and provided an overview of where the state’s public education system stands after disruptions related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In three of the four contested APS school board races, candidates who derived major financial support from the business community won their races over those backed by the Albuquerque Teachers Federation. Aragon praised those winners – Danielle Gonzales for District 3, Crystal Tapia-Romero for District 5 and Courtney Jackson for District 7 – but disputed their label as business-backed candidates.
“These candidates ran based on what they were hearing from their communities,” Aragon said.
The NewMexicoKidsCAN Action Fund PAC donated $1,111, $1,666 and $2,222 via in-kind contributions to Gonzales, Tapia-Romero and Jackson respectively, according to campaign contribution reports.
Even before pandemic restrictions pushed instruction online, New Mexico’s public education system had struggled relative to those in other states.
Aragon said just 30% of New Mexico students are able to read at grade-level proficiency, while just 20% can do math at grade level.
She added that this affects students even after they graduate, as they may have to take remedial courses when they get to college or struggle to complete job applications when they enter the workforce.
The pandemic has exacerbated these challenges. Aragon cited a report produced by the Legislative Finance Committee showing New Mexico students lost the equivalent of 10 to 60 days of instruction due to the pandemic.
“We were already very behind, and we are now further behind,” she said.
Furthermore, Aragon said she’s concerned by the lack of data on student and teacher performance, a problem that has worsened since the pandemic began. She said many students haven’t taken statewide standardized tests for two years, meaning it’s difficult to ascertain the progress that individual students are making.
“We have to know how every student is doing, so we can ensure that every student has access to a high-quality education,” Aragon said.
The state received an “unprecedented” influx of federal money, totaling around $1.6 billion, aimed at supporting public schools during the pandemic. Still, Aragon said the state runs the risk of squandering that money without reliable metrics to evaluate progress.
“Our kids need this $1.6 billion to get them back on track,” she said.
Journal writer Pilar Martinez contributed.