New Mexico governor’s race spotlights education

 In Politics

With help from Ben Wermund, Michael Stratford and Caitlin Emma

EDUCATION SPOTLIGHT ON NEW MEXICO GOVERNOR’S RACE: Poor education outcomes, low teacher pay, high unemployment rates and an active education funding lawsuit are just some of the problems facing the next governor in the Land of Enchantment.

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— It’s not surprising, then, that education has become a key issue in the race for the governor’s mansion between two sitting members of Congress representing the state: Republican Rep. Steve Pearce and Democratic Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham.

— Right off the bat, New Mexico’s next governor will become entangled in a legal battle over funding of the state’s public schools. A state district court judge ruled last month that New Mexico’s students are “caught in an inadequate system” in need of improvement — a ruling the state has appealed. As in Washington and Kansas, funding lawsuits often present yearslong challenges for state leaders, who must figure out how to boost funding for schools to the pleasure of the courts. When the parties become caught in appeals, a resolution can take even longer.

— Lujan Grisham has said that should she be become the state’s next governor, she would cut the fight short by “immediately” halting the state’s appeal of the ruling, according to local reports. “New Mexico’s public education system is broken and underfunded,” she said in a statement. Among Lujan Grisham’s campaign promises is a proposal to boost teachers’ starting salaries to $40,000 from the current $36,000.

— Pearce, meanwhile, stopped short of making such a commitment on the school funding case. “This ruling underscores the importance of my plan to reform education. The old way is broken,” Pearce said in statement to Morning Education through a spokesman.

— Among Pearce’s goals is to “diversify” the sources of education funding to make schools less reliable on the oil and gas industries. He also hopes to support an expansion of school choice, including “charter schools, magnet schools, e-schools and homeschooling,” according to his campaign website. He wants to return more “day to day management decisions to the local school districts and/or charter schools,” and institute per-pupil funding.

— Universal preschool and the funding stream for such a program have divided the candidates. Lujan Grisham has made preschool access one of her marquee issues and is proposing to fund its expansion through $285.5 million over five years from the state’s Land Grant Permanent Fund, she told the New Mexican. That fund culls fees from the extraction of natural resources from state lands. But Pearce isn’t keen on tapping into those funds and has not made preschool expansion a priority. “I’m very nervous about beginning to dip into that permanent fund until you have solutions,” Pearce told local station KRQE.

— Both candidates are in agreement on two things: teacher evaluations and PARCC. The Common-Core-aligned standardized test was created through a consortium of more than 20 states in 2010. New Mexico remains one in a handful of states to still administer it, but both Pearce and Lujan Grisham want to scrap it. “The PARCC test seems to be especially ineffective,” Pearce told KRQE. “My initial reaction is we should find a better way to measure our students.” Lujan Grisham’s education plan calls for “dropping the PARCC test in favor of less intrusive testing.”

— Both candidates have also said they would overhaul the state’s controversial teacher evaluation system. Lujan Grisham, who has the backing of teachers unions, would reform teacher evaluations “to focus on more holistic measures of progress.” Pearce said recently that after conversations with teachers, local school officials and others, it has become clear that “the current system has crushed the spirit of many talented educators and contributed to our state’s teacher shortage,” according to the AP.

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TODAY — SESSIONS HOSTS SCHOOL SAFETY EVENT IN ARKANSAS: The Trump administration’s Federal Commission on School Safety will hold a discussion in Pearcy, Ark., today on “Proactively Protecting Our Schools.” Attorney General Jeff Sessions will attend. Education Deputy Secretary Mick Zais is expected to stand in for Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who chairs the commission and is not listed among the event’s participants.

Local news reported late last week that DeVos and Sessions would visit the nearby Lake Hamilton School District, which has long employed armed security officers. Some school staff also started carrying concealed weapons on campus after Arkansas lawmakers legalized the practice. But DeVos’ weekly public schedule lists no events for today. The Education Department didn’t respond to a request for details about the secretary’s whereabouts.

The event will focus on the relationships between schools and law enforcement. Two roundtable discussions will bring together school officials, state and local law enforcement officers, parents and community members. The groups will discuss “coordination between the school district and local law enforcement, training and response protocols,” as well as how school districts handle feedback from students and parents on school safety.

Sessions will be joined by Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, a Republican, Rep. Bruce Westerman (R-Ark.) and representatives from HHS and DHS. The event kicks off at 3 p.m. central time and will be livestreamed here.

KAINE INTRODUCES EDUCATOR SHORTAGE BILL: Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) introduced a bill this week that would amend the Higher Education Act to address teacher and principal shortages in rural communities, special education, English language education and STEM. The bill would expand the Teacher Quality Partnership grant by increasing the number of eligible districts and would boost support for teacher prep programs at minority-serving higher education institutions.

— The bill would also require colleges and universities with teacher prep programs to compile yearly reports on the number of licensed teachers they’re producing. States would use that data to come up with quantifiable goals to address teacher shortages. The bill would also require that the Education Department place that data in an annual report on the state of teacher preparation.

— The Preparing and Retaining Education Professionals, or PREP, Act has the backing of the Council of Chief State School Officers, which represents state education chiefs. “This proposed legislation gives states the support they need to administer effective programs, while at the same time holding them accountable for results,” said CCSSO Executive Director Carissa Moffat Miller. The bill is also backed by the National Association of Secondary School Principals. Read the bill text.

** A message from Navient: The federal government has increased the amount students can borrow for their education, contributing to rising student debt. Helping borrowers succeed requires us to address the underlying issues fueling student debt. Read Navient CEO Jack Remondi’s five common-sense solutions to improve the borrower experience: **

PERKINS OVERHAUL (FINALLY) GETS TRUMP’S SIGNATURE: The bipartisan rewrite of the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act, H.R. 2353 (115), finally got President Donald Trump’s signature Tuesday.

— The overhauled Perkins Act is one of the most significant pieces of education legislation to be enacted in this administration. It’s the first time the law — which provides $1 billion in support to states for secondary and post-secondary skill training — has been reauthorized since 2006. Trump has said that with the reauthorization, “we will continue to prepare students for today’s constantly shifting job market, and we will help employers find the workers they need to compete.

— The President celebrated the signing during an event at Tampa Bay Tech high school alongside DeVos and Ivanka Trump, who had pushed Congress to pass the bill.

FEDERAL PRESCHOOL GRANTS BOOST 4-YEAR-OLD ENROLLMENT IN 2017: Roughly 14,000 additional 4-year-olds across 18 states were enrolled in publicly funded preschool programs in 2017 through the Preschool Development Grants program, according to a progress report distributed by the Education Department Tuesday. That brings the number of new preschool slots created through the program to 25,677.

— States also used funding from the program to align roughly 25,000 preschool slots to federal early learning standards. They brought 6,000 slots from half-day to full-day preschool, and improved almost 10,000 slots by hiring preschool teachers with bachelor’s degrees.

— Applications for the next round of Preschool Development Grants are out Aug. 14. The new version of the program, codified in the Every Student Succeeds Act, is meant to help states serve children from birth to age 5, and not just 4-year-olds. This round of funding isn’t to be used to fund new slots for babies and children; the money should instead be used to conduct a statewide needs assessment, to inform parents about the options available and eventually, to improve the overall quality of programs. More on that here.

WOMEN’S GROUPS WANT CONGRESS TO PROBE COLLEGES ‘COVERING UP’ SEX ASSAULT: The National Women’s Law Center and 37 other groups have sent letters to the House Education and the Workforce and Oversight committees urging them to hold hearings on “the profoundly troubling phenomenon of colleges and universities covering up sexual abuse perpetrated on students by employees.”

— The letter points to the ongoing scandal at Ohio State University, which is now investigating claims that a former (and now deceased) doctor for its wrestling team sexually abused the student athletes. Multiple former Ohio State wrestlers have accused Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) of ignoring allegations against the doctor when he coached the team. (Jordan has denied the allegations.)

— “The role, if any, played by Representative Jordan in allowing the perpetuation of the abuse must also be understood, as complicity in sexual abuse of students would, of course, be unacceptable for a Member of Congress,” the groups wrote. They note the Ohio State scandal is only the latest case “demonstrating how common it is for university employees to use their position, influence, and trust to serially sexually abuse students.” They also cite the Larry Nassar scandal at Michigan State and the University of Southern California, where hundreds of students have reported sexual abuse by university gynecologist George Tyndall.

— They also want the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights to look into the Ohio State scandal. “As part of that investigation, we ask that OCR specifically investigate the role played by University employees who knew or should have known about the harassment in allowing the abuse to continue,” a similar coalition of 37 groups wrote in a separate letter to DeVos and Kenneth Marcus, who heads the civil rights office.

Meanwhile, The Dallas Morning News reports that Texas A&M University has started including a new clause in football coach and assistant contracts saying that if they fail to “promptly report” any information pertaining to alleged gender violence or sexual assault, they can be fired without receiving damages.

TREASURY REPORT DINGS EDUCATION DEPARTMENT OVERSIGHT OF STUDENT LOANS: A Treasury Department report released Tuesday criticizes the Education Department’s oversight of the federal student loan program and calls on Congress to hold low-performing colleges more accountable. The sweeping report, submitted by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to the White House, recommends that the Education Department create minimum standards for federal student loan servicing companies. Michael Stratford has more.

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