Marking the first day of school, Gov. Susana Martinez and Attorney General Gary King paid visits to Albuquerque elementary schools on Wednesday and spelled out conflicting views on state education policy.
The competing school appearances of the two general election candidates for governor came as they prepare for a fall campaign expected to focus heavily on education issues.
Democrat King appeared outside Zia Elementary School. Later in the day, the Republican governor made a stop at East San Jose Elementary School.
King said he would disassemble a number of the educational changes the Republican governor has put into place since 2011, including what King called an increased reliance on standardized testing and a school grading system that he said is indecipherable for the schools.
“We have to end high-stakes standardized testing in New Mexico as a tool for our schools, because it is taking us down the wrong road,” King said. Schools should shift the money currently being spent on testing back into the classroom, he said.
King characterized Martinez’s relationship with teachers as adversarial and said he would do more to seek teachers’ input and incorporate it into the state’s education policies.
“The governor’s program is not working now,” King said. “She continues to refuse to listen to educators who are saying that it’s not working, so we do need a change.”
Other education proposals King highlighted Wednesday included his support for drawing new money from the state’s Land Grant Permanent Fund to pay for early childhood education programs and changing teacher evaluations to a system based on peer review rather than student testing performance.
King appeared alongside Democratic lieutenant governor candidate Debra Haaland and leaders of the American Federation of Teachers New Mexico union, which announced its endorsement of King.
Martinez, at East San Jose, read to first-grade students in both English and Spanish and helped distribute reading books the state gives to children under a program the governor backed. The governor also announced a proposal to expand a state program that provides free breakfast for low-income students.
Martinez, after questions from reporters, blasted King’s education remarks, saying he was re-hashing “a failed plan” advocated by her predecessor, Democratic Gov. Bill Richardson.
“It’s a plan that appeared they dusted off and simply put forward,” she said.
Martinez defended the education programs established by her administration as effective, pointing as an example to New Mexico’s best-in-the-nation increase in high school graduation rates to 70.4 percent in 2012 up from 59 percent in 2007.
“Why would we want to take away those reforms that placed us at that status,” Martinez said. “Why would we go backwards?”
Despite the recent improvements, the state’s overall graduation rate ranked 44th in the nation last year. King said the improvements were a carry-over from policies in place before Martinez took office.
Challenging King, the governor said required testing under her administration actually has decreased.
Martinez also said the new school grading system has allowed the state to identify struggling schools and target them with increased funding and supplemental programs.
“We then put our money in those schools, our reforms into those schools so those schools can go up,” Martinez said.