Serving the High Plains

Time for all-above approach to education

New Mexico should be in crisis mode. Our K-12 education system is certainly facing a crisis. Problems abound: recent reports highlight serious school attendance issues, the NAEP (known as the “Nation’s Report Card”) test places New Mexico 52nd across ALL age groups and subjects studied, the Kids Count report shows New Mexico kids are losing ground, and no one seems to have a solution. Education spending has increased markedly in recent years with nothing to show for it.

With New Mexico already suffering from poor educational outcomes the COVID pandemic and lockdowns instigated by Gov. Lujan Grisham truly put our children into a crisis. Getting our children out of last place and into something resembling a functional, successful system that prepares them for future success should be THE issue that everyone in New Mexico is concerned with.

Sadly, for reasons that include the unions’ hegemony over education policy in New Mexico and the fact that many New Mexicans have resigned themselves to policy failure, our political leadership rarely addresses the need to dramatically reform our education system. Instead, we’ve seen money poured into an education system that has seen a massive reduction in the number of students served.

There are many ways to measure this, but perhaps the most direct is a recent analysis from Wallethub, which found that New Mexico spends 20th-most among states on K-12 education for results that rank 51st. Being in the “High spending, weak system” category is obviously the worst place to be in education, but here we are. More money is not the answer.

So, what IS the answer? That may not even be the right question. Rather, we at the Rio Grande Foundation are advocating for an “all of the above” approach to education in New Mexico. For example, Mississippi has done some amazing things in education to the point where The Associated Press labeled their success “the Mississippi Miracle.”

By reforming the existing education system Mississippi has achieved major gains in student outcomes. New Mexico policymakers should take note and enact similar reforms.

New Mexico has long had charter schools. They are the major form of “school choice” in our state and they include a disproportionate share of the state’s best performing schools. But more is needed to make our charter schools the best they can be for New Mexico kids. This can mean everything from making it easier to start a new charter school to making it easier to close failing or under-performing charters.

Finally, we’ll talk about private options. Arizona and several other states have boldly embarked on a path where money for schools follows the student, but there are other options including school choice tax credits and “microschools” that are worthy of discussion and analysis. What do these options mean in practice and can we get them in “blue state” New Mexico?

At the Rio Grande Foundation (and our education project “Opportunities for All Kids New Mexico”) we believe New Mexico’s education challenges are an existential threat to both our children and our economic prospects. So, we are hosting a free, day-long education conference in which experts from across the nation and state discuss these and other potential solutions.

The conference, set for 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sept. 22, will be held at St. Pius X High School on Albuquerque’s West Side. The event is free but sign up is required at: http://www.oaknm.org. Let’s all work to solve New Mexico’s existential education crisis.

Paul Gessing is president of New Mexico’s Rio Grande Foundation, which promotes limited government, economic freedom and individual responsibility. Contact him at:

[email protected]

 
 
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