*Editor’s note: This article has been updated to clarify that charter schools are publicly funded.
SANTA FE, N.M. (KRQE) – Charter schools can offer kids opportunities not available in public schools. But should the number of charter schools be limited? That’s a question lawmakers debated at the Roundhouse Friday, February 24.
Charter schools and public schools are both publicly funded, but a debate over prioritizing charter schools versus traditional public schools has been going on for decades. Now, Sen. Mimi Stewart (D-Abq.) and Rep. Tara L. Lujan (D-Santa Fe) have sponsored a bill to cap the number of charter schools in each district.
Senate Bill 422 would essentially prevent new charter schools from forming in districts where enrollment in charter schools already accounts for 10% of the district’s funded student enrollment. That means there could be no new charters in Albuquerque, Carlsbad, Santa Fe, Taos, and a few other districts, according to an analysis by the Legislative Finance Committee.
Why limit charters? According to Stewart: “The last time we had a study of the charters in New Mexico was an LFC [Legislative Finance Committee] study in 2016. They found several troubling things and we haven’t addressed any of them.” Additionally, “there’s problems with financial management in some of these charters. Just think about it: They just don’t have the staff to understand fiscal management.”
“We have some charters that perform very well,” Stewart added. “We have many that don’t.”
Years ago, that 2016 study drew criticism. It only included six charter schools. And now, the idea of limiting new charters is also binging criticism. Matt Pahl, from Public Charter Schools of New Mexico, argued that charter schools give parents more choice over their kids’ education.
“The education debate is critically lacking a discussion around parents and children finding the school that’s right for them,” Pahl said. “Parents are choosing the right school for their kids, and it’s the norm in education across the country.”
Steven Carrillo, a New Mexico public education commissioner said limiting charter schools would hurt students. Senate Bill 422 “is bad policy for kids and for fostering innovation and excellence in our schools,” Carrillo said.
Others say charter schools are hurting existing public schools. “Some school districts, like mine, are experiencing adverse effects from opening charter schools,” Santa Fe Public Schools Superintendent Hilario “Larry” Chavez said. Charter schools take resources and teachers from public schools, Chaves said.
After hearing from lobbyists and members of the public, bill co-sponsor Stewart clarified that the bill wouldn’t remove existing charter schools – it would just prevent new ones from forming. But the committee ultimately decided not to block new charters.
The Senate Education Committee voted to table the bill. Some legislators did note that maybe the state should look into certain charter school issues, such as claims that charter school administrators are overpaid, but the committee didn’t want to stop new charters altogether.
Senator William P. Soules (D-Doña Ana), who has been an outspoken supporter of public schools, was the only legislator on the committee that voted in favor of the bill limiting new charters. Following the debate, the majority of the committee did pass a bill requiring all charter schools to have a board of finance and audits.