Wednesday, March 19, 2003
Senate Passes Revised Education Measure
By David Miles
Journal Capitol Bureau
SANTA FE The Senate on Tuesday unanimously approved a sweeping school reform bill that includes a three-level teacher licensing system with minimum salaries and more power for local superintendents.
The bill (HB 212), which the Senate approved on a 40-0 vote, goes back to the House for consideration of Senate changes.
"This is a great day for education," Sen. Cynthia Nava, a Las Cruces Democrat and chairwoman of the Senate Education Committee, said in tearful closing remarks on the bill.
In 2001, then-Gov. Gary Johnson vetoed a similar school reform bill after balking at the plan's price tag, then estimated to be about $300 million.
But Nava said phasing in the three-tiered licensing system and other reforms over five years, as called for in the current bill, is estimated to cost about $121 million.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, would establish minimum annual teacher salaries of $30,000, $40,000 and $50,000, depending on experience and qualifications. Funding for the first year of the system, which would raise the minimum salary of all teachers to $30,000, is included in the state budget bill (conference committee report for HB 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 9).
Nava said the higher salaries would attract more people to teaching.
The bill would make local superintendents the chief executive officers of school districts and transfer the authority to hire and fire school employees from local school boards to superintendents.
"For those of us that believe in local control, this bill is a step in that direction," said Sen. Mark Boitano, R-Albuquerque.
But Sen. Leonard Tsosie, D-Crownpoint, complained that the bill did not address funding inequities at poor American Indian school districts.
"We try to do these things and then we still don't get results," Tsosie said.