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The State Of Education In New Mexico: NOT On A Good Path

Contrary to New Mexico Public Education Department Secretary Dr. Kurt Steinhaus, education is not in “a good place”.

Yesterday, the New Mexico Public Education Department acknowledged that over 65% of students are not reading proficiently.

The state’s new standardized testing revealed that about two-thirds of students in New Mexico are not proficient in language arts or science while three-quarters of students are not proficient in mathematics.

Results were analyzed by the Albuquerque Journal, which included a quote from Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham’s Secretary of Education, Dr. Kurt Steinhaus. His comments highlight the sheer incompetence of the administration: “I am very confident that New Mexico, as a state … we are on a good path. We are moving forward. We’re in a good place.”

“I am very confident that New Mexico, as a state … we are on a good path. We are moving forward. We’re in a good place.”

Dr. Kurt Steinhaus, Secretary of Education

No, Dr. Steinhaus. New Mexico education is not in a good place. The state is not on a good path. The state is not moving forward.

The Santa Fe New Mexican chimed in as well.

These educational trends in New Mexico are part of a national setback. The conversation from the left is that the learning losses were caused by the pandemic. In reality, teachers’ unions under Randi Weingarten coordinated with the CDC, New Mexico Health and Human Services Cabinet Secretary Dr. David Scrase, and Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham. Together they made the conscious decisions to literally lock children out of classrooms for over a year.

Abysmal learning losses are the result of their actions.

All of this could have been prevented. Early in the pandemic, new research revealed that young children were not nearly as susceptible to serious complications as were older adults. But the decision-makers pushed their radical agendas creating the greatest educational deficit of our lifetimes. There is a lot of catching-up to do.

Renaissance Learning, an educational software and learning analytics company, released a report in the spring showing a nationwide decrease in the percentage of students at or above the benchmarks in literacy and math. Across the country, that percentage decreased by 2% across both categories between 2021 and 2022. In New Mexico, the trend is far worse, with the percentage of students meeting the literacy benchmark decreasing by 7% and the math benchmark decreasing by 8%.

New Mexico’s education system is in a state of deep crisis and reflects a disturbing national movement. The New York Times commented on the National Assessment of Educational Progress test results in August. These tests began tracking student achievement in the 1970s, and this year the results in math and reading fell by the largest margin in over thirty years.

The blame should not be allowed to rest solely on the pandemic. Rather, it should be placed on the shoulders of the establishment bureaucrats who allowed schools to be closed for over a year. Setting aside blame, the Times rightfully points out that school closures erased two decades of progress in math and reading.

In a state already struggling to deliver adequate education to students, New Mexico has lost tremendous ground under the leadership of Michelle Lujan Grisham. While championing school closures to “save lives”, the state has seen children and young people lose years of learning, impacting their future earning potential.

This will likely exacerbate economic inequity for decades, driving more families into poverty and keeping them there longer.

The radical “staying home to save lives” policies that wrought havoc on education invariably did nothing to “slow the spread”. The extreme shutdowns resulted in New Mexico having the sixth highest COVID death rate in the nation anyways.

It was all for nothing.

Is more money going to solve the education problem? Albuquerque Public Schools seems to think so. Their latest budget nears $2 billion, coming in at over $27,000 per student annually.

The education crisis has reached fever pitch, and the only way out is education freedom. Senator Craig Brandt was the driving force behind the Educational Freedom Account Act. The legislation was first introduced in the 2022 legislative session and would allow New Mexico parents to choose the best available education for their children.

Senate Bill 210, the Educational Freedom Account (“EFA”) Act, would have created EFA accounts. Parents would be able to pay for qualified education expenses from those EFA accounts.

A school choice program, like the education savings accounts in Senator Brandt’s bill, would free 71,000 students and their families from a future arbitrarily predetermined by a zip code. By funding students instead of systems, they could pursue the educational opportunities that best fit their needs.

The Supreme Court resoundingly confirmed parents’ rights to school choice in the Carson v. Makin case, ruling that states cannot prevent religious schools from participating in school choice programs. The Court ruled 6-3 that the barrier was unconstitutional.

School choice is constitutional. And elected officials in every state should act to give parents as much school choice as possible.

By Patrick M. Brenner

Patrick Brenner is the founder and president of the Southwest Public Policy Institute, a limited-government research institute and think tank focused on the southwestern United States. An advocate for open government, he leads the institute's government transparency and accountability efforts.

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