Talk about a monumental task. Since 1975 the State of New Mexico has chosen to be responsible for funding public education in a way that is fair and equitable.
Now, managing a household budget can sometimes be difficult; compare that to funding the operating budgets of over 100 school districts statewide. That's enormous! Throw in a global pandemic and an emerging economic crisis and you've got a recipe for a contentious debate about education policy at the 2021 state legislative session.
Students, teachers, staff, parents and concerned New Mexicans wanting to follow the twists and turns of the education policy debate might want to keep an eye on:
- Yazzie/Martinez & Post-Pandemic Public Education–This will be just the third legislative session following the landmark ruling in the Yazzie/Martinez case, which found that the state is in violation of the constitutional requirement of providing an equitable education to students.
As difficult as it has been for families, students and educators, the rippling effects of pandemic-forced school closures provide as blank of a slate as we'll ever get to reform public education policy. Legislators have the opportunity to rethink the system we have used to educate our children–one that is arguably, if not most definitely, broken.
Legislators will definitely be introducing a deluge of education measures that will focus reforming the system. We will have to watch and see if lawmakers will see the forest for the trees and focus their energy on rebuilding student-centered, anti-racist and professionally rewarding learning environments.
- Hold Harmless–Get used to hearing this term as lawmakers tackle the peripheral effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Basically, schools are funded based on a formula of the number of students that attend individual schools from the prior year. Hold Harmless proposals are intended to temporarily provide stability funding to offset the current and inevitable future enrollment fluctuations.
You'll remember that, last spring, school districts statewide closed their doors to in-person learning. As a result many of those students have "disappeared," meaning enrollment is down significantly and, under the state's current funding model, school districts would receive much less moolah.
- Graduation Requirements–Rep. G. Andres Romero (D-South Valley) has introduced a bill that will change what credits students will need to graduate. The measure argues that current course requirements are unnecessarily restrictive (does everyone really need Algebra 2?) and that more flexibility in high school graduation requirements will provide a more equitable learning environment.
Advocates say that students should be able to choose pathways to graduation (much like we do in college), so that the focus is on skills and relevant knowledge based on student choice. This measure appears to be aimed at undoing the legacy of No Child Left Behind and that policy's focus on standardized testing.
Along with increasingly louder voices advocating for increases in revenue, there's no question that legislators have a massive task ahead of them–and they'll have to navigate a maze of plexiglass barriers and Zoom meetings to get it done.