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Who Needs Public Education Anyways?

By: Rae Arnett

What does less funding for the public universities in New Mexico mean? Budget cuts and higher tuition costs are two things that immediately come to mind. But no matter what the actual cost might be, it will be you, the students, paying for it.

In a standoff with the New Mexico Legislature earlier this month, Governor Susana Martinez vetoed all of the funding for higher education. This standoff started over proposed raised taxes in the state budget. I do not want to pay more taxes, but we currently live in a state that is in a budgetary crisis and additional taxes are necessary.

My question –  why veto and put public universities at risk? It’s one question I cannot answer for certain, but I believe it is a political power play. Martinez knows that taking a harsh stand will have a greater probability of bring the state legislature to the table, on her terms.

In order to get the budget approved, and funding back for the public universities, there will have to be a special session called. According to the Santa Fe New Mexican, the special session will cost approximately $50,000 per day, which is not exactly desirable considering the current financial predicament our state is in.

Public education in New Mexico is generally ranked near the bottom of the annual Quality Education Reports, and this year was no different. New Mexico tied for 49th with Mississippi and Nevada came in at 50th. This does not bode well for public education in New Mexico, which has also been under the knife of budget cuts.

I do not know about you, but I want to be proud of education in New Mexico, which means we need to start appropriately funding our schools. All of them. Education starts early in our lives, and we continue through school for a significant amount of time. I have been “in school” for nearly 19 years, but I also know that I have been extremely fortunate in every step of my education.

When I look to the future and think about where I would want to build a career, life, and family; I think about education standards, cost of living, job security and safety. Needless to say, New Mexico ranks on my list for its proximity to my family but not for much else.

To further complicate matters, there is also a current job freeze on most state jobs, according to the Albuquerque Journal. But why does that matter? As graduation approaches, there is a significant appeal to state jobs as well as federal jobs.

Our state has essentially defunded public education, higher education, and created less job opportunities for the state. In a state where retention of college graduates is already an issue, it seems it would be wise not to dramatically raise tuition and to offer incentives, like job opportunities, for those recent graduates to stay.

Our state is in trouble. Our university is in trouble. And we are in trouble.

Call and let Susana Martinez know that you want public universities and public schools funded. The higher we build up our youth with education, the better off our entire state will be.

Susana Martinez’s office can be reached at 505-476-2200. Call her office and let her know what you think. She might be in her “lame duck” years as our Governor, but she still works for us; her constituents.

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A hole, a small town, and the US government

By: Rae Arnett

My hometown of Nara Visa has been in the news lately, which is an odd occurrence all on its own. There are no gas stations, grocery stores, or police stations. The population of the town isn’t much, if I had to wager, I would bet there are more abandoned buildings in Nara Visa than occupied ones. So what has caused such a stir in this sleepy community?

A proposed test bore site done by the company Enercon is what has everyone interested in my little town. The site would be testing the viability of the land to store nuclear waste, and while there is nothing in the works to make the site an operational nuclear waste storage facility, at the moment, it’s not a risk some in the area are willing to take. 

My own father, Mark Arnett, raised his concerns and they were not about little ol Nara Visa, but rather about the Ogallala Aquifer. 

“I can’t imagine drilling through the Ogallala to make a hole to put nuclear waste in, it’s just asking for trouble,” said Arnett.

I agree, and not just because he is my dad. The Ogallala is an essential piece to surviving in Eastern New Mexico, West Texas, and six other states. Remember all those seemingly silly reminders to water on certain days, or the pipeline from Ute Lake to Curry and Roosevelt Counties? Those reminders and that pipeline are being built because water is such a precious resource in our area. For the people with the “mind your own business” attitude, I can think of a few people who would say to manage your own water better.

The thought of potentially contaminating that water is enough to make me run for the hills, so imagine how the locals who still live in Nara Visa feel. Are you starting to understand why you should be attentive, if not concerned, about the situation?

It’s hard to trust something new, even if it comes with the promise of revitalization and more jobs in the area. If anything, those big promises would make people more gun-shy. Why would you want to bring jobs and revitalization to a town that does not even have a gas station any longer? I am not disparaging Nara Visa; I love it, even if my cell phone does not work there. But, I also have a realistic outlook for the area. It’s an area for ranchers, not for the hustle and bustle. It’s a town you drive through, only those that are already intimate with its charms stop to look.

It was brought to my attention that some people thought these locals were overreacting. Maybe they were. But they are reacting for everyone who uses the Ogallala Aquifer, so I think we can cut them a break.

And for those that support the borehole, that is okay too. Revitalizing the community and the promise of more jobs is not something to dismiss in a hurry. It’s good to have the discussion, the debate, and to find a way through the new territory together. 

“In all debates, let truth be thy aim, not victory, or an unjust interest,” said William Penn.

A concept we should all keep in mind. Let’s debate to find the solution, not to disparage one another. Let’s debate to decide if this is right for the Nara Visa area, Eastern New Mexico, and the Ogallala Aquifer.

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The Despicable Rally

By: Rae Arnett

More than 1000 New Mexico educators, parents, and students rallied at the Roundhouse Thursday afternoon according to Santa Fe Public Schools. With the hundreds of participants marching, chanting, and holding signs, it is hard not to believe the Governor and members of New Mexico’s state senate and congress did not hear the displeasure of their constituents.

The rally started off with marching around the roundhouse and chanting “save our schools” and “no more cuts”.

One woman in an upper level office at the roundhouse actually closed her window in an attempt to drown out the protests. Others in offices at the roundhouse stood at their windows and quietly cheered the protestors on.

Lana Wimberly, the 7th and 8th grade math and science teacher at Nino Otero community school showed up Thursday, March 16th, to support her school and all New Mexico educators as they protested outside of the New Mexico Roundhouse.

Lana Wimberly holds the sign her class helped create.

“As soon as the superintendent said she might be giving us some time off the kids and I started planning what we would do,” said Wimberly.

She was a little disappointed it was only a half day off for the schools because that meant some of her students would be able to make it.

“We were planning on where to meet up and how they could find me but with the half day off some of my students won’t be able to make it,” stated Wimberly.

Wimberly is from Texas originally and said Texas teachers have so much more than we do in New Mexico.

“The teachers here in New Mexico don’t even know what they are missing…almost $3000 more a month in pay, and more time off,” said Wimberly. Wimberly was especially disappointed that Governor Martinez would call educators despicable.

“Susanna Martinez just wants to take more away from the schools… she called us despicable,” said Wimberly in a shocked tone.

When asked, Wimberly stated she did not think the session would solve any of the issues at hand.

“I don’t think in this session will solve anything. It looks like the Republican senators are falling in line behind Susanna after she retaliated about them overriding her veto…whatever the next session is, maybe we can come up with something for our schools,” said Wimberly.

Wimberly said she has considered going back to Texas to teach, but she is not planning on going alone.

“I’ve thought about taking other teacher with me back to Texas so they could make more money. I have a five bedroom house there that I rent and I would like to do it just to make a statement,” said Wimberly.

Wimberly stated she has wrote a letter to Governor Martinez telling her about the plan. 

Joe Lister Jr., the Medically Fragile and Special Education teacher at Santa Fe High School attended the roundhouse rally because of his concern about how education cuts affect students long term.

“I don’t think law makers understand that education is the foundation for jobs, the street crime, the jails, and all the things that cost more money in the end,” said Lister.

Lister also stated he was concerned about the lac

k of awareness of the federal mandates for special education. “We can’t do it (meet the standards) without funding from the city, the state, and districts. With out that funding they will wreck us,” said Lister.

I don’t know if it’ll get solved but I think the people coming together to be heard is a great thing. 

Lister’s main concern for the upcoming school year is how special education will be affected.

“I am concerned the special education children won’t have the proper support needed to fulfill their education needs and how cuts will affect education all the way around,” said Lister.

Lara Becker, the 3rd grade teacher at Amy Biehl Community School, was also in attendance.

Becker said she attended because she was concerned about the budget cuts.

“The superintendent gave us a perfect opportunity to come out here and we are grateful for her,” said Becker. 

She stated that she hoped this rally would have a positive impact on how the budget was handled.

“Hopefully if the numbers show then it will make a statement. We can only be hopeful,” said Becker.

Becker’s main concern for next school year is the losing teachers.

“Losing teachers, losing quality teachers. It’s a loss for the kids,” said Becker.

Governor Martinez’s office did not return my call for comment.

Thursday’s March made it clear that New Mexico educators are fed up with the budget cuts to education in the state. New Mexico representatives would do well to listen to them, these protests come from people who voted them into office after all.

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Sometimes Spring Semester Just Blows

By: Sharna Johnson
It’s hard to say which is worse: waking up to the windows shaking and dark, dirt-filled skies, or a day that starts out beautiful only to have your hair blown backward when you step outside. Life-long resident, living in Eastern New Mexico for the first time, or just passing through, there is one thing pretty much everybody in the area detests – the wind.  It’s pushy, blows dirt in your eyes, moves things around and makes being outdoors generally unbearable. And there’s a whole season of the relentless, miserable stuff. Eastern students may wish for “wind days” so they can pull the covers over their heads and avoid the whole thing all together, but short of a Mediasite option for attending class, get ready, because dealing with the wind is just a fact of life for most of the spring semester.
Why it’s so windy: the science – From about March to the end of April, the windy season plagues New Mexico, particularly portions of the state like the Eastern Plains, where, with grass and flat land as far as the eye can see, there is little to stand in its way.
There is a scientific explanation for the annual windstorms that blow through the state, said Randall Hergert, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Albuquerque. In the winter, the jet stream is able to push south from the states above New Mexico, causing winter storms to pass over the state.  But in the spring, Hergert said the jet stream moves north into Colorado and Wyoming, leaving behind “a very strong pressure gradient to the south of them, so that pressure gradient is right where the winds kick through over us.” And kick through they do – February 28, the day before windy season officially began, reported gusts of up to 65 mph wreaked havoc throughout the area, uprooted trees, destroyed property, caused power outages and created other issues for residents. Luckily, in the week since, though still unpleasant, the windy days have been low-key by comparison.
What the forecast means on the ground Measured in miles per hour, wind is usually described or forecast in speed ranges.
  • Up to 15 mph – Breezy to New Mexico folks, winds in this range will kick up dirt, mess up your hair and blow a term paper out of your hand but are otherwise harmless.
  • Between 15-35 mph – Yep, it’s windy. In this range, vegetation – tumbleweeds, small shrubbery and trees – and other relatively lightweight items go on the move. Motorists driving large vehicles may have a difficult time fighting the wind on highways, Hergert said, and drivers should give larger vehicles more room and time to maneuver.
  • From 35-74 mph – The wind speeds of a tropical storm, these are days you don’t go outside. Strong winds – especially gusts that hit hard and suddenly – can rip limbs from trees, trees and buildings with weak foundations or roots can be leveled, car doors are ripped open, billboards and roof sections blow off and anything not tied down will travel. Low-visibility, blowing debris and difficulty controlling vehicles make driving dangerous.

Survival guide – There really is no way to get around the wind, especially when class is on the other side of campus, but there are a few things that can keep it from completely ruining your day.

  • Bad hair days – Don’t even bother styling if you can hear wind outside your windows. Ponytails will help with mild wind but for really windy days, twists, buns and braids are the only way to go. Forget the hat unless you’re ready to watch it bounce down the sidewalk. Opt for a knit cap or hoodie instead, especially with medium to short hair.
  • Congestion, headaches and dry, itchy eyes – Full of dirt, dust and pollen, even low winds can destroy the sinuses and kick off allergies. Consider a daily-dose allergy medication, like Claritin or Allegra or go for a low-level, non-drowsy decongestant and acetaminophen combo. Nasal sprays, eye drops and a humidifier at night can also help, but if all else fails, it’s time for a trip to the doctor to get other options.
  • Cover, shield and protect  Even if the skies are dark, wear sunglasses or other lenses to protect the eyes. Grains of dirt can scratch and irritate eyes and make navigating the wind both painful and difficult. Pull the drawstring on your hoodie and tie to help shield the face or wrap a light scarf around the face to keep dirt and allergens out of the mouth and nose.
  • Lighten the load – Expect a fight from doors and anything you try to carry in your hands or arms.  Instead, cinch everything you have to carry into a backpack and keep your hands free. Also, remember that virtual stuff doesn’t blow away. Upload notes, papers and other materials to the cloud storage area of your school email account (OneDrive) and retrieve on your phone or print when you get where you’re going.
  • Choose your route – Cut through buildings to reduce time in the wind and choose routes between buildings, trees and other vertical barriers to help block the wind. Allow extra time to get places and be sure to give yourself  a minute to compose yourself and fix your hair when you arrive.
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New Mexico’s Education Enigma

By: Rae Arnett

Education has been a hot topic in national news since Betsy DeVos was confirmed as Secretary of Education. Concerns about DeVos and how she will fund the public school system and what, if anything, she will change are prominent on social media; almost as prominent as the memes about how unqualified she is to hold the office.

Education has been a tense subject in New Mexico for years. Lack of funds and increased testing standards have made educating the youth more difficult, and for a small salary. Most recently concerns were raised about the bill Governer Susana Martinez signed into effect which took funds from public school’s savings to decrease the budget deficit for the state.

To get a better grasp on how these cuts might affect educators in New Mexico, I thought I would ask a few.

Jamie Guevara, a middle school Language Arts teacher, said his concerns about DeVos centered on her lack of experience.

“I am only aware of pro voucher which would make our low performing schools even worse.  DeVos lacks the understanding of issues that affect public education and does not have the resume to be in her current position,” said Guevara.

Connie Jackson, Business Manager for the Regional Education Center #6, was more optimistic.

“I am willing to wait and see what will happen, it will be a challenge for her to put aside her personal preferences regarding education, I believe we need to be positive and give her the benefit of the doubt….let’s hope she steps up,” said Jackson.

Anita Narvot, a middle school Social Studies and Language Arts teacher, said “I can’t imagine standardized testing would increase with the new administration, we already have so much in place…  Federal funding could definitely be an issue with her in NM.  As you mentioned, we are already hurting and do not meet the NM Constitution funding formula” are her concerns about DeVos.

As far as the state taking money from the schools to balance the state budget, the answers are all centered around the state budget being important, but education is important as well.

“I think it is a temporary fix and the state is targeting the wrong areas to “fix” the budget.  The borrowing will target school budgets financially and will be a hardship for all schools, personnel, instructional materials, transportation, food service….all will suffer,” said Jackson.

“If there is a rainy day fund then it’s time to use it. I think policy makers and administration need to cut unnecessary spending and put the money in the classroom.  New Mexico needs to prioritize.  We can combat our high poverty rate with better learning experience for kids,” said Guevara.

The goals for how each of the interviewees would improve education in New Mexico, if they could only change one thing, were focused on more opportunities for students and better pay for teachers.

“Consistent pay raises for the education profession will attract more qualified and dedicated applicants.  I have witnessed a lot of students who initially go to college for a teaching degree move to another major due to low pay and too many requirements asked of teachers and officials,” said Jackson.

“I would fund public education equally so that every student receives the same amount of money for his/her education regardless of the state they live in,” said Guevara.

Their concerns about New Mexico education echoed these goals to move towards.

“Money makes a difference in education. From a federal to a state level, priorities need to change.  Teacher compensation is low in NM, so teachers go elsewhere and recruiting a good teacher is difficult. Too many students drop out because NM does not offer vocational learning alternatives. I don’t see progress. I see politicians creating mandates that hinder progress,” said Guevara.

“Less funding to the districts means more staff and program cuts….more hiring of first year teachers (if they can find any) who don’t have any experience, also non-experienced classified staff.  I see a lot of eligible folks who can retire and will if they have to take on more responsibilities.  If schools try to reduce expenses through attrition it also creates a problem, one person sometimes is going to have to do two jobs, which cuts into quality education.  Fine arts and athletics will be the first things to go and I feel these are very important programs for the success of our students,” said Jackson.

With concerns about being able to train, retain, and successfully support the retirement of educators in New Mexico as well as budget short falls which affect our classrooms and students, it might be worth listening to the educators on the front line for solutions.

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NM Legislature & Proposed Changes for College Students

By: Sharna Johnson

Loan assistance for minority doctoral students in engineering, science or math fields, drastic changes to the Lottery Scholarship, college transfer credits and hazing laws are among issues currently being considered by the New Mexico Legislature.
The 2017 Regular Session runs from January 17 to March 18, with legislators under a deadline of February 16 to propose legislation.  Less than a month in, hundreds of pieces of legislation have already been introduced and – from introduction to committee where they either die or move forward to a vote – are in various stages of moving through the state’s law-making body.
Working in a heated political environment and under threat of state financial crisis, New Mexico lawmakers must tackle several critical issues this year, not the least of which include an already-passed series of budget solvency bills to address budget deficits.
Other hot topics include proposed recreational marijuana, the right-to-die, parental notification of abortions, hemp research and background checks for private gun transactions, to name a few.
In addition to legislation reflecting state and national issues, however, are some bills that specifically impact college students:

SB 276 Lottery Scholarship Awards & Applications:
This bill, sponsored by Sen. John M. Sapien, D-Corrales, amends the Legislative Lottery Tuition Scholarship Act and is scheduled for review by the Senate Education Committee February 10.
Currently available to all students who graduated from high school or received high school equivalency in New Mexico, under the proposed changes, students would be required to apply for the Lottery Scholarship. Also, rather than the current system of funding 90 percent of a New Mexico student’s tuition, the Lottery Scholarship would pay varying maximum tuition scholarships based on the number of program semesters a student has received the scholarship. For example, a student at a community college would receive 60 percent their first two and 100 percent their third semester, while students at comprehensive and research institutions would receive 40 percent their first semester, 50 percent the second and third, 80 percent the fourth and 100 percent in the fifth, sixth and seventh semesters.
The proposal attempts to address a reduction in the Lottery Scholarship fund which is anticipated a reduction of tuition coverage from the current 90 percent, to 70 percent or less in the 2018 funding year. Research institutions argue the formula favors community colleges and opponents also assert that requiring students to apply for the scholarship places poor and first-generation college students at a disadvantage.
HB 194, “Lottery Scholarship Full & Need Based”; HB 237 “Liquor Tax to Lottery Scholarship Fund”; HB 344, “Lottery Scholarship Full & Need Based”; SB 188 “Disabilities Students Lottery Scholarships”; and SB 192 “Transfer of Lottery Funds”, are other bills currently in the legislature which propose amendments to the Lottery Tuition Scholarship.
Click to read more or track SB 276

SB 103 Transfer of College Credits:
Designed to assist college students, particularly transfer students, in fulfilling graduation requirements, this bill sponsored by Sen. Gaye Kernan, R-Hobbs, would amend the Post-Secondary Education Articulation Act.
In addition to changing the definition of “articulation of credits” to “a transfer of courses to fulfill graduation requirements”, the bill removes the requirement that the general education core have at least 35 credit hours.
Under the proposed amendment, the Higher Education Department would be required to develop a statewide general education core curriculum of not less than 15-24 credit hours for an associate degree or 30 hours for a bachelor’s degree including lower-division courses that provide a liberal education. All courses included in the general education core would be required to be transferable and to fulfill general education requirements wherever they are transferred.
Click to read more or track SB 103

SB 197 Loan Repayment for Certain Students:
This Act, proposed by Sen. Pete Campos, D-Las Vegas, repeals portions of an existing program, revising it to broaden its applicability and allow greater discretion to the Higher Education Department regarding student need and qualification. It has cleared the Senate Education Committee and is now under review by the Senate Finance Committee.
The original Minority Doctoral Loan for Service program was designed to increase the number of minority or female faculty in specific fields at New Mexico’s public postsecondary institutions. Students who have successfully completed a doctoral degree program at an eligible institution in the fields of engineering, physical or life sciences or mathematics and have been hired to a full-time, tenured position at a New Mexico public postsecondary institution can receive loan repayment assistance from the Higher Education Department.
According to the Higher Education Department, the current program requires students and institutions to make employment commitments prior to a student completing their doctoral degree, which is extremely difficult because most students must complete post-doctoral work in their field before they are qualified for faculty positions. Only five candidates are enrolled in the program for the 2017 funding year.
Click to read more or track SB 197

HB 200 Anti-Hazing Act:
Introduced by Majority Floor Leader, Rep. Sheryl Williams Stapleton, D-Albuquerque, the Anti-Hazing Act boasts 14 sponsors in the House and is currently located in the House Consumer & Public Affairs Committee.
Under the proposal, the act of hazing would become a misdemeanor, subject to up to one year in jail and a fine of $1,000. Knowingly participating, aiding or assisting in hazing resulting in death would become a fourth degree felony, punishable by up to 18 months imprisonment.
Hazing, as defined by the act, is requiring a student or other person to perform any act for the purpose of induction or admission into or continued good standing in groups, organizations, teams or societies associated with an educational institution.
The act prohibits any activity that, “recklessly or intentionally endangers the health of a student or other person, including requiring the consumption of food, yelling, humiliating, harassing, belittling, cursing, sleep deprivation, forced calisthenics, drug or alcohol use, striking, beating, paddling, slapping, blindfolding, pushing or maiming; threatening to require sleep deprivation, forced calisthenics or drug or alcohol use; threatening to strike, beat, paddle, slap, blindfold, push or maim; or requiring any morally degrading, illegal or indecent action.”
Click to read more or track HB 200

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Portales’ Hidden Treasure – La Paz

By: Samantha Smith

Years before I ever came to school at ENMU, I had to listen to my older sister, Taylor, our best friend, Gina, Taylor’s boyfriend/Gina’s brother Tel, and Gina’s oldest brother, Tyrel, rave about the greatest fajita burrito on earth. Growing up in Canada, you acquire a likability for bland foods with little flavor, and suddenly you move to New Mexico where the flavors run wild.

When I decided to join Taylor at ENMU, I hadn’t thought of how different the food options would be. Where I come from, Taco Bell is about as Mexican as food gets, and the only chili we have is snow or made of beef, tomatoes and beans which is unfortunate because if I have discovered one thing in my time here, it is that green chile is life.

The first time my sister took me to La Paz I wasn’t sure what to think as I walked into a building that is a tire shop in one half and a restaurant in the other. Not having the slightest clue what to order, my sister ordered for me what she thought would be the safest option for my taste – green chile chicken enchiladas. Of course, she ordered herself the legendary fajita burrito, a popular choice among so many. Much to my surprise, I was highly impressed with the meal I ate that day, and I have never turned away from an opportunity to eat at La Paz. Not only is the food delicious, but it is also affordable on a college budget.

To sum things up, if you haven’t been to La Paz yet, I highly suggest you make time to take in the excellence. Portales has many hidden treasures; this just happens to be my favorite food-related one!