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.