[1/18] For Our Future: This Week's Education News & More

Friends & Colleagues -

And we're off. Our 2018 legislative session kicked off Tuesday with Governor Martinez's eighth and final State of the State address. (Full text of her speech here.) Unsurprisingly, given her long history of tough rhetoric on the topic, she had a lot to say about education. While there is plenty to be both optimistic (statewide graduation rate of 71%) and skeptical (we still trail the U.S. average by 13 points) about, the central question seems to be how, not if, New Mexico will spend the extra money from our current oil and gas boom on education?

There's lots of talk, as there has been for the last eights years, about House Joint Resolution 1 which calls for hundreds of millions to increase early childhood education. I'll also keep my eye on the proposed 2 percent pay raise for teachers, 1 percent raise for all non-teaching school staff (well deserved for both groups), and a potential $5,000 bonus for "exemplary" and STEM teachers, which is backed by a recent report from the Feds. The Gov also called for "a firm cap on the portion of a school district’s budget used for administrative expenses" stemming from Think New Mexico's recent research. As this is a 30-day session, the action will need to be fast and furious.

The growing consensus is that most of our extra dollars must go to education, where the budget is still more than 10 percent less than pre-2008 levels. I'd love to see:

  1. Increased investment in high-quality early childhood education,
  2. Competitive grants for districts (both rural and urban) to innovate, and
  3. Ample dollars for proven school models (like that of Mission Achievement and Success I've written about) to expand and share their work.

[LOCAL: NEWS] AP Classes Reach Historic High in NM. In 2017, 19,526 NM students enrolled in AP classes and sat for about 17,000 exams in all 38 subjects offered. Though I see we still need focused efforts on expanding access and performance for low-income students. The high schools behind this surge tend to be more affluent, including Los Alamos, Rio Rancho, and La Cueva and Eldorado in Albuquerque. This year NMPED asked for a one million dollar increase in fee waivers for eligible students, which about 5,000 students utilized last year.

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[LOCAL: RESEARCH] NM Voices for Children Releases "2017 Kids Count Data Book". The Albuquerque-based non-profit released this annual report in conjunction with the national Annie E. Casey Foundation. The education section begins on page 44 and includes district-level enrollment, free-lunch, proficiency, attendance, and graduation stats. Given the makeup of the board and staff for Voices, I was pleasantly surprised to see the report parrot this line nearly verbatim from Gov. Martinez's SOTS address: "this year 4,100 more New Mexico kids will benefit from NM Pre-K than did five years ago". While this report is light on policy recommendations, it is a helpful baseline of the challenges we continue to face in education and beyond.

[LOCAL: RESEARCH] NMSU College of Ed Issues Teacher Vacancy Report. I'm a tad behind on this, but in mid-November Dr. Karen Trujillo at the STEM Outreach Alliance Research (SOAR) lab released this research. While there has been alarm about New Mexico being second in teacher turnover, this report reveals important nuances. Here are some highlights:

  • There are currently 673 educator vacancies in New Mexico. This includes certified teachers, counselors, administrators, and support providers such as speech pathologists and social workers;
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  • As expected, the need varies by region in the state. Central New Mexico has a bulk of openings, though there is a 36% increase in the Southeast and a 32% increase in the Northwest compared to 2016;
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  • A vast preponderance of openings are in Elementary and Special Education (SPED). "Approximately 4,910 elementary students are being taught by a long-term substitute." Additionally, "SPED teachers account for 223 or 46% of all teacher openings, up from 35% last year, [and] account for 54% of posted vacancies"; and
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  • Completion of education programs from 4-year institutions is down, while those of 2-year programs is up. Basically, alternative licensure is on the rise here in New Mexico and nationwide. There is a 27.7% decrease in the number of completers from 4-year universities over the past six years and a 94% increase in 2-year completers.

We have the facts, but what will we do about them? How do we incentivize meaningful, yet streamlined training and licensure for aspiring SPED and elementary teachers? Not having a degree in Education shouldn't be a firewall for aspiring teachers (something Sen. Griggs tried to address in SB 114 last year), but we also can't throw unprepared folks, regardless of their prior professional experience, into the classroom. How do we encourage more high-performing teachers to move into these positions? Education is projected to be our "second fastest growing industry from 2012-2022 with an increase of 23.8%." Let's proactively wrap our heads and arms around the likely challenges now.