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Tuesday, March 18, 2003

Secretary Plan Gets House Ok

By David Miles
Journal Capitol Bureau
    SANTA FE The House on Monday approved a proposed constitutional amendment to create a governor-appointed secretary of public education and a Public Education Commission without policy-making authority.
    The proposal (conference committee report for SJR 2, 5, 12 and 21), which the House approved on a voice vote, was a compromise negotiated by a six-member team of House and Senate members. It went to the Senate for consideration.
    If legislators approve the proposal, it then would go on the ballot for a statewide vote planned for November, pending final approval of legislation for a special election.
    The compromise proposal would create a Cabinet-level secretary of public education and a 10-member, elected Public Education Commission. Legislative negotiators deleted a House provision to give the commission policy-making authority.
    The legislative conference committee also added language saying the education secretary would have administrative and regulatory authority. Under the compromise, the powers and duties of the commission would be spelled out in state law in the future.
    New Mexico currently has a policy-making state Board of Education with 10 elected members and five members appointed by the governor. The state also has a superintendent of public instruction appointed by the board.
    Gov. Bill Richardson, who pushed for the education secretary post but opposed a policy-making panel, praised legislators for reaching agreement on the matter.
    "I am pleased with the action of the conference committee in supporting my position to create a strong secretary of education with broad budgetary, regulatory, and administrative powers," Richardson said.
    Rep. Rick Miera, D-Albuquerque, who served on the conference committee, said he was not sure whether voters would approve the proposal but was encouraged by Richardson's support.
    "I think what the voters are going to do depends on who's doing the job of getting out the information," Miera said.
    Rep. Terry Marquardt, R- Alamogordo, and conference committee member, said he supported the compromise even though he did not want an education commission. But he warned that a commission could interfere with the efforts of the education secretary even though the panel would not have the authority to set policy.
    "I think we're setting ourselves up for conflict between an elected commission and the Cabinet secretary," Marquardt said.