Will New Mexico's Next Governor Champion Schools for All Families?

The dust has finally settled on what’s felt like a two-year battle for the governor’s office. Now, those of us who care deeply about the future of public education in New Mexico are left sifting through campaign trail rhetoric, seeking to distinguish party pandering opprobrium from viable (and governable) policy positions. These distinctions will rapidly define the administration of Michelle Lujan Grisham.

Of the many problematic stances on education Governor-Elect Lujan Grisham took during her successful campaign, the suggestion to “implement a ban on opening any new charters” is most worrisome. This so-called “charter moratorium” is a zombie-bill fantasy drawn up by those who don’t mind seeing other people’s kids exiled to failing schools as long as it secures their bag. This half-baked idea has died a hundred deaths already, but continues to be resurrected by those who build profitable careers on the backs of the students left behind.

Take two national rankings of the top high schools in New Mexico from Niche and U.S. News & World Report. For both lists, the top ten is roughly half charter or other school of choice. The Albuquerque Institute of Math & Science (a state-authorized charter school) is rated #1 on both lists, besting Los Alamos HS with its legions of Ph.D. offspring from the nearby national laboratory. In fact, AIMS tops LAHS in: reading, math, ACT, SAT, AND diversity. And, yes, this is possible for all schools and all students.

 
 

What makes this even more impressive is that out of the 1,017 K12 schools in NM, only 99 of them are public charter schools. With less than seven percent of K12 students in the state, the best schools here are roughly half charter or charter-like. That’s remarkable no matter how you cut it. Many charters are performing better than the schools parents spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to buy houses near.

Confirming our status as a national leader in providing high-quality options for all parents in The Land of Enchantment, outgoing Governor Martinez was recently honored as a “Charter Champion” by the National Association for Public Charter Schools (NAPCS):

New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez has been a champion for charter schools and educational excellence. Gov. Martinez modernized charter school authorizing, expanded charter school access to transportation funding, protected charter schools from harmful funding cuts with her veto pen, and has overseen an era of dramatic improvement in charter school quality and an increase in charter school enrollment.

As an unabashed charter school supporter and critical friend, a “moratorium” is the antithesis of equity to me. What’s more, these types of backwards-looking, Fauxgressive approaches to public education make being a sensible Democrat in New Mexico exceedingly frustrating. To hear the politicos I agree with on many topics mindlessly parrot talking points about education from fifty years ago hurts the mind and soul. Sadly, my party lacks deep thinkers about education in NM.

When reached for comment, the president and CEO of NAPCS, Nina Rees shared:

As Governor-Elect Lujan Grisham transitions into her new leadership role, we want to encourage her to put students and their need for high-quality public school options first as she creates new legislative priorities. Charter schools have been a critical change agent in strengthening the education landscape in New Mexico, and we trust the new governor will both honor and champion their essential role in public education.

I agree with Nina and expect better from my own party. Needless to say, I will follow this issue closely. Amidst the battle lines drawn between the education establishment and reformers, we often lose sight that every child attending a charter school does so out of the will of their family. These are conscious decisions made by every family seeking to find the best opportunity for their child. No one should take that away.