Beware more state control of our schools

Gov. Bill Richardson explains his education vision with a passion befitting a master politician. He’s stumped throughout the state in recent weeks to ask New Mexicans to allow him to show us all how to put our public schools on the right path to producing better-prepared children — at no extra cost.

To do that, he wants your vote Sept. 23 to give the governor’s office more control, in structure and dollars, and pass Amendments 1 and 2.

Don’t be fooled. Vote against these amendments. They value three things:

• Centralizing power over finding a way to make the existing system work better.

• Creating an education system headed by the governor and his secretary of education that will give them more control over how our public schools spend their $2 billion budget.

• Endangering a permanent monetary source for education — the Land Grant Permanent Fund — that means a taxpayer shells out far less in taxes today, up to $400 a year less by some estimates.

In short, the amendments really are not so much about what they claim — providing a better education for our children, improving test scores, etc. — as they are about a traditional political approach: consolidating more power in Santa Fe at the expense of local public schools.

Amendment 1 would create a cabinet-level secretary of education who would answer to the governor. The secretary would yank the strings on that $2 billion public school budget, with help from the governor no doubt.

The amendment also would emasculate the state education board, which has at least a vestige of clout now.

Today’s 15-person board (10 elected members and five gubernatorial appointees) would turn into Cinderella’s mice — 10 elected folks serving on a toothless advisory panel with no powers assigned to it in the amendment. And this board would answer to the governor’s secretary of education.

As scary as Amendment 1 sounds, Amendment 2 is worse. It would give cash-hungry politicians, bureaucrats and special-interest groups authority to conduct the first raid on the $6.8 billion Land Grant Permanent Fund, by increasing the percentage of its investment interest that can be spent to as high as 5.8 percent from 4.7 percent today. A nine-tenths change sounds reasonable on the surface, but fiscal experts warn that tapping more than 5 percent endangers the corpus, or body.

Yes, the amendment includes safeguards if the fund’s value falls below certain levels. But the foes of this raid — including the state’s Republican and Green parties, and state Land Commissioner Pat Lyons — know what most farmers know: Put food in the trough and decorum disappears.

If Amendment 2 passes, we predict a feeding frenzy will follow that will further strip this and other permanent funds of the cushion they provide all New Mexicans, poor and not-so-poor, against even higher taxes.

Even many educators have serious concerns about both issues and some —Dennis Roch of Texico, for example — have been outspoken in their contention that a yes vote would have a negative impact on our state’s financial future.
We have another fear that is based on a past example of Santa Fe promises when it comes to tax hikes, and what really happens. You’ll remember a few years back the Roundhouse gang kindly increased the gas tax we pay, so more tax dollars could be spent to improve New Mexico’s roads.

The outcome: Gas tax collections did rise, but our elected leaders slashed a like amount of the General Fund dollars previously earmarked for transportation and spent them on new pet projects they and their special-interest friends favored.

Imagine if history repeats.

Don’t let it happen. You have the power. Vote against Amendments 1 and 2 on Sept. 23.