Lawmakers mull future educational priorities - Albuquerque Journal

Lawmakers mull future educational priorities

Teacher Therese Garcia directs her class during an activity while some students pay attention at the Albuquerque Sign Language Academy last Thursday. (Chancey Bush/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal

Some things are too important to put off.

Even though the new fiscal year just started, New Mexico lawmakers are already laying out some of their educational priorities for next year.

A big topic of conversation has been providing quality training for educators and school leaders. New Mexico has recently seen teachers entering classrooms with slightly less experience.

One way the state can work on that, Rep. Susan Herrera, D-Embudo said, is using some of the $400 million in extended learning time and K-5 Plus program funding that schools have passed up on professional development.

That would be especially useful for newcomers in educational professions, she said, citing researchers’ findings that 57 of the state’s 89 superintendents were new to the post.

“If you’re a new superintendent, and you have a lot of new teachers, and a lot of new principals, and everybody’s trying to figure it out at the same time … it’s going to be tough,” Herrera said during a Thursday Legislative Education Study Committee meeting. “We ought to think about making that money flexible so that people can add professional development days for all those people.”

Districts like Albuquerque Public Schools have asked the state Legislature for more flexibility in extended learning time programs. Specifically, APS has asked for funding to extend days, allowing schools to institute daily professional development.

Rep. Elizabeth Thomson, D-Albuquerque, emphasized the importance of keeping students with disabilities in mind in conversations about state spending, saying they’re often forgotten.

One way to do that, she said, is to bolster funding on advocates for special education students via the Office of the State Special Education Ombud.

“As always, kids with disabilities, and the people who serve them, are the redheaded stepchildren who get put out in the portable that’s out amongst the weeds,” she said.

Another issue that ties into that, Thomson said, is keeping instructional support providers, such as social workers, therapists and interpreters, on a level playing field in terms of salary.

Although teachers and some counselors received minimum salary increases averaging around $10,000 earlier this year, many other instructional support providers were left behind, leaving local districts and teachers unions to make up the gap.

APS and its local teacher union, the Albuquerque Teachers Federation, recently solidified an agreement to pay staff like social workers the same as teachers.

“I’m concerned about the social workers in this district,” Sen. Gay Kernan, R-Hobbs, said. “They’re very needed. And not just the social workers – that’s just a representation of those other employees that aren’t covered.”

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