In 2018, a state district judge issued a landmark ruling identifying longstanding shortcomings and flaws in New Mexico’s public education system. Judge Sarah Singleton detailed how our Native American, English-speaking, disabled, and economically disadvantaged students were not receiving the education promised by our state constitution. In turn, she asked state decision makers to fix the problem.
Since then, we’ve seen the governor declare an educational “moonshot,” a $1 billion increase in K-12 education spending, and implement the progressive theology of fairness, inclusion and diversity to help these at-risk students. Our governor then closed our public schools for over a year and mandated remote learning for which those same at-risk students would likely have less access to computers and internet service than other students.
What results has this Hail Mary education created? Students of all grades and backgrounds are falling further behind their peers in other states, schools are seeing more students with behavioral health issues and higher absenteeism rates, and NM schools are consistently ranked 50th in the nation. Parents also increasingly recognize that the Department of Public Education (PED) is more concerned with promoting political agendas than ensuring that children can read, write and do math, a travesty in every way of seen.
PED recently released a 55-page draft action plan designed to respond to the judge’s ruling that state policymakers must provide at-risk students with the education they deserve. Unfortunately, the draft proposal was nothing more than the same educational “solutions” of the past – spending more money, creating new programs run by the Santa Fe bureaucracy, and reaffirming educational goals that have never been achieved. In short, it was a typical top-down approach, accompanied by a refusal to critically examine the operation and funding of public schools in NM. To say that students, parents and taxpayers are increasingly frustrated is an understatement.
Why not try something new? The methods of the past have failed and now is the time to institute fundamental change – school choice. This approach would allow families to bring their children’s education money to an approved education provider of their choice, whether traditional public schools, public charter schools, private schools, virtual learning or home schooling. School choice ensures that education money is used to educate children, not to protect a particular educational institution or politically influential group. We could start school choice by changing our disparate extended learning program that has left half of the state’s students with unequal chances simply because many districts don’t want to extend the school year. Let’s give options to these students!
Education savings accounts, scholarship tax credits, individual tuition tax credits, and yes, even the dreaded voucher, are proven ways to increase access. to better educational experiences. Contrary to myths created by naysayers, school choice has been shown to improve academic performance, reduce racial disparities, and save taxpayer dollars.
The academic deprivation of students at risk of NM is mainly due to the fact that they are forced to attend schools that do not meet or cannot meet their needs. Therefore, by providing the financial resources to provide school choice, these students and their families can discover new learning opportunities that offer hope for the future. Equally important, school choice will instill a creative environment among educators to develop new centers of learning better prepared to educate our state’s diverse student body.
We need to transform public education to help our at-risk communities and the best way is to give students, parents and educators choice when it comes to deciding the best learning opportunity.
Truth or Consequences