ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) — Bringing up school closures and education issues associated with COVID-19, a recent campaign ad from Republican gubernatorial candidate Mark Ronchetti has a lot to say about the policies of Democratic opponent Michelle Lujan Grisham. The ad broadly claims Lujan Grisham “has no plan” to help the state’s students “catch up,” but that Ronchetti does.
So what’s the context behind the claims? KRQE News 13 is looking into the gubernatorial candidates’ political advertisements in the run-up to Election Day to help you get the full story. Here’s the details behind Ronchetti’s latest ad.
New Mexico kids are falling behind
A key claim in Ronchetti’s ad is that New Mexico’s kids “are way behind.” As an unnamed woman makes that statement to the camera, text appears on screen, stating “73% of NM kids can’t read at grade level.” The ad sources recent statistics from the state’s Public Education Department as proof of the claim.
The text on screen is a slight overstatement of New Mexico’s statewide educational assessment for the school year 2021 through 2022. The statewide testing results show that only 27% of tested students were proficient (or better) in meeting early literature requirements. Of course, that means 73% of kids tested weren’t proficient.
That number is perhaps telling, but it’s not quite the same as saying “73% of [New Mexico] kids can’t read at grade level.” The early literacy standard only applies to grades K through 3, meaning it doesn’t apply to grade levels 4 through 12, according to the Public Education Department.
Looking further into the state’s data among older students and high school kids, the number of English language arts-proficient students is slightly higher, at 44%. State data indicates 66% are considered “not proficient.”
Further along in the ad, another statement flashes on screen, stating “New Mexico last in education.” The ad sources multiple news reports from the U.S. News and Forbes. An article from Forbes’ sources a school ranking compiled by WalletHub, which continues to rank each state’s school system based on 32 different metrics. The latest ranking shows New Mexico at the bottom of the list.
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Does Lujan Grisham have a plan?
As Ronchetti’s ad continues, an unnamed man states “the Governor has no plan to help them catch up,” using imagery of an article from the Albuquerque Journal’s editorial board. So does the Governor have a “plan”?
Delaney Corcoran, a spokesperson for Lujan Grisham’s campaign, says the Governor does have a plan. Corcoran says the plan is to continue making investments in education across the state.
In the past, Lujan Grisham has prioritized funds for education, including asking the state legislature to increase teacher pay. In a statement, Corcoran told KRQE News 13, “[Lujan Grisham’s] plan is to continue these investments and continue to make sure that the money that she’s already invested is used most efficiently and effectively.” Online, her campaign lists “investing in education” among six “priorities.”
And the Governor’s campaign also points to the Martinez/Yazzie “Action Plan” put together by the Lujan Grisham administration. That document is a work in progress meant to address systemic issues within the state’s education system.
The Martinez/Yazzie v. New Mexico lawsuit is the combined result of two lawsuits filed in 2014 (before Lujan Grisham’s term as Governor). The lawsuits, in essence, claimed that New Mexico wasn’t providing students — particularly economically disadvantaged students — the resources they needed to succeed.
Now, the state is still working to address that allegation. The draft “Action Plan” put forward by Lujan Grisham’s administration has detailed suggestions for the state to improve education, which includes things like reducing the number of students per teacher in classrooms and increasing the options for would-be teachers to get licensing credentials.
Ronchetti’s ad also states that Ronchetti has his own plan for education, as outlined in a PDF document online. Standing in what appears to be a classroom, the ad shows Ronchetti saying, “more dollars to the classroom and a real plan to help kids catch up.”
When it comes to bringing more money to classrooms, Ronchetti’s “school plan” in part promises to “change state law to limit the growth of administrative spending in education.” The idea is that money should be spent on things like more teachers and interventions for struggling students, rather than on administrative costs.
That’s the same general plan outlined in Senate Bill 75, sponsored by Democratic senators Roberto “Bobby” J. Gonzales (D – Los Alamos, Rio Arriba, Santa Fe, and Taos), Shannon D. Pinto (D – McKinley and San Juan), and Bill Tallman (D – Bernalillo). Lujan Grisham asked legislators to consider the bill, but it died in the 2022 legislative session.
Ryan Sabel, the communications director for Ronchetti’s campaign, acknowledges that “there have been many attempts to redirect funds from administration to the classroom throughout the years.” But he points out that “Mark would work with the legislature to find solutions that require school districts to direct that money to classrooms, not continue to feed the beast of administration” and adds that Ronchetti would use his powers as Governor (via the state’s Public Education Department) to reject school district budgets if they don’t adequately fund classrooms.
Ronchetti’s education plan also includes what he calls “bold steps” to make up for lost learning time and to increase transparency, among other things.
Some of Ronchetti’s suggestions include giving a $1,500 stipend to each low-income child in first, second, and third grade. That should be used for “outside-of-the-classroom academic support” (I.e. tutoring), the plan notes. He also suggests starting “school-based summer academies” (I.e. short summer school to “help struggling students master the basics.”)
Beyond pointing out educational plans, Ronchetti’s ad links New Mexico’s educational issues to Lujan Grisham’s response to COVID-19. “The manner in which the Governor shut down our schools was extreme,” a woman states at the beginning of the ad.
With text on screen, the ad suggests New Mexico is among a handful of states with the “longest school closures” in the U.S. The ad cites a CNN article, but within that CNN story, it never says New Mexico had the longest closures. The article simply reports that as of March of 2021, New Mexico was among a few states that still had partial school closures.
Ronchetti’s ad also notes that New Mexico had the 6th highest COVID-19 death rate. That is true, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The nationwide data, which includes deaths since January 21, 2020, shows that New Mexico had 409 deaths per 100,000 people. West Virginia, Alabama, Arizona, and Mississippi are the only states with a higher death rate. And New York City had the highest death rate, at 500 deaths per 100,000 people.
The ad implies that because of the pandemic — and the way Lujan Grisham handled it — New Mexico’s kids are behind in school. And while data from the state does show many New Mexico kids are behind, it’s not just New Mexico’s students who suffered due to the pandemic.
Across the nation, math and reading levels fell by the largest margin in over 30 years, reporting from the New York Times shows. The data shows that from 2020 to 2022 (pre-pandemic to post-pandemic) the average reading scores for 9-year-old students saw the largest drop since 1990. And the data also shows a nationwide drop in the average math scores for 9-year-olds, the first ever recorded math scores drop since the 1970s.
Editor’s Note: KRQE News 13 fact checking and contextualizing television ads used in the 2022 race for New Mexico’s Governor’s office. Ads reviewed are ads from the candidates, not from political action committees. The review period consists of ads either released, or running between September 5, 2022 and the November election. For more KRQE News 13 Fact Check articles, visit KRQE.com/elections