NM economy won't thrive until we educate our workforce - Albuquerque Journal

NM economy won’t thrive until we educate our workforce

Ant Thornton

By now, we all know these sad facts: New Mexico ranks last in the United States in both education and child welfare. But I’ll add a few more rankings to the list: according to U.S. News & World Report, we rank 44th in our economy, and 49th in “opportunity.”

Opportunity is a weighty word. It strikes a note of hope and of optimism. And because I am an eternal optimist, it’s a word that resonates with me. Contrary to our ranking in U.S. News, it’s also a word that I associate with New Mexico. I’ve lived in New Mexico for 40-plus years. This state provided me an opportunity for a great career, working at Sandia National Labs. It has offered me the friendships of the great people of this state. It has shown me hundreds of moments of natural beauty, which helped me to lure my wife away from Texas. And that’s why I want to make New Mexico into, truly, a land of opportunity – because all of the raw ingredients are here for the taking. The cultural diversity of our people, the natural wealth of our resources, the talent – they’re all here. It’s the vision and leadership that are lacking.

New Mexico is a state where only one in three children read at grade level, one in four can perform math at grade level, and one in four students don’t graduate high school. Education is the key to unlocking the opportunity that lies in New Mexico.

We have truly world-class minds in this state, waiting to create the Silicon Valley of the Southwest. We have an opportunity to educate the generation that unlocks the secrets of space exploration, that solves the mystery of affordable energy production, and that can create even greater opportunities for the generations that come after.

But this will never happen unless we have the collective political will to realize that what we’re doing is not working.

Our economy will never thrive while we fail to produce an educated workforce. There are other issues standing in the way of economic prosperity in New Mexico, but lack of quality education is at the top of the list.

My running mate, Mark Ronchetti, has issued a detailed plan to turn education around in New Mexico, and I urge you to read it on his website. An endeavor this complicated can’t be explained in soundbites, but I’ll mention two things that strike me as very important. First, we must address our lack of accountability in education spending. We need to eliminate unnecessary bureaucracy, redundancy, and make sure that money actually makes it to the classroom, where it is needed most. Second, we need to understand that a top-down, one-size-fits-all solution is not working. There are systemic issues that face our public education system, but there are also issues facing individual schools – and some solutions will work in one school, but not in another. To solve the education crisis plaguing our state, we must allow for local solutions to local problems.

We don’t have to be in last place. It doesn’t have to be this way. I’m asking you to think about the opportunity that we all have in this year’s election to chart a new course for New Mexico.

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