SANTA FE, N.M. (KRQE) – New Mexico’s lawmakers are seeking to reinstate a powerful oversight board for the state’s public education system. If the idea moves forward, it could be up to New Mexico’s voters to decide the future of public school policy.
Senate Joint Resolution 1, a bipartisan piece of legislation, would let New Mexico’s voters amend the state’s constitution and create a board to steer education statewide. In effect, the idea would create a new oversight structure for the state’s Public Education Department.
“What it does is it takes us back to when we had a statewide, partially elected, partially appointed State School Board,” Sen. Mimi Steward (D-Abq.) explained in the House Education Committee Wednesday, March 8. With such a system, “we had much more consistency,” she added.
“You can’t point to any governor [as] the issue,” for the state’s educational woes, Stewart said. “The issue is the whiplash that the education community has between administrations.” So, by relying on a board for policymaking with six-year terms, things like teacher evaluations might be more consistent over time, Stewart said.
But reactions to the idea have been mixed. Amanda Aragon, the executive director of NewMexicoKidsCAN, an educational policy group, expressed concern that creating a partially elected board would invite more politics into the school system. “Politics should be out of education. But running 10 elections across the state of New Mexico – that will in many ways follow what we’ve seen in school board elections across the state and across the country that have become more political, more ugly, and cause more chaos at the local level – doing that at a state level, we don’t believe is the best way to remove politics from education,” Aragon said.
Others say the idea would lead to better education. “If you want better public schools, we have to have consistency,” Stan Rounds, the executive director of the New Mexico Coalition of Educational Leaders said. “This is the right thing to do.”
Legislators also had mixed feelings about the idea. “I agree: Leadership matters and stability matters,” said Rep. Susan K. Herrera (D-Rio Arriba, Sandoval, Santa Fe & Taos). “But I think it matters more at the local level.”
Herrera argued that it’s going to take time for other, recent changes, such as increased teacher salaries, to start showing a positive effect on the state’s schools. Reinstituting a state school board is not the answer she concluded.
Rep. Joy Garratt (D-Abq.), on the other hand, said she’s excited by the idea. “Already we elect the 10 people for the Public Education Commission, so there’s no change in the election part,” she pointed out.
Ultimately, the majority House Education Committee voted to move the joint resolution forward. The idea still has to pass on the House floor.