Education Bills Passed- For Better or Worse

Think New Mexico

Dear Juan D, The 2023 legislative session just concluded, and we were able to make solid progress on several of our policy priorities. Optimizing Learning Time (HB 130) – Signed! Increasing learning time was one of the top priorities in our education reform roadmap report that we released last fall, since the research indicates that it is one of the most effective strategies for improving student proficiency and closing achievement gaps. House Bill 130 proposed to increase learning time from the current minimums of 990 hours for elementary school and 1,080 hours for middle and high school to 1,140 for all students. Meanwhile, you may recall that House Bill 194 proposed the same increase in hours, and we preferred its approach of adding 80 hours for paid teacher professional development on top of the instructional time. By contrast, HB 130 allowed up to 60 hours of the 1,140 instructional hours to be used for teacher training and planning. Time for teachers and time for students are both essential, and they should not be in competition with one another. However, HB 194 never received a hearing in the House Education Committee, so HB 130 became the only opportunity to advance this reform. Two positive changes were made to HB 130 as it made its way through the legislative process: first, on the House Floor, the bill was amended to incentivize school districts to increase their number of instructional days, not just hours. Then, a few days ago in the Senate Finance Committee, HB 130 was amended to limit the number of instructional hours that can be used for professional development and planning time for teachers to 30 hours in middle and high school (it remains at 60 hours for elementary school). As a result, HB 130 would guarantee that elementary school students will receive at least 90 additional hours of actual learning time, and middle and high school students will receive at least 30 additional hours. This represents significant progress in increasing time for teaching and learning and an important step toward recovering the learning loss that occurred during the pandemic. School districts have flexibility about how to implement the increased time. HB 130 passed the House 62-0, the Senate 34-6, and was signed into law by the governor this past Thursday, March 16.  High School Graduation Requirements (HB 126) Many thanks again to all of you for helping push the legislature to make two important improvements to House Bill 126, the bill introduced to overhaul the state’s graduation requirements. When the bill was introduced, we were troubled that the proposed graduation requirements failed to include a world language (i.e., a language other than English), and career technical education (e.g., training in careers like health care, film, and teaching), even though those courses are highly beneficial for students. Equally concerning was that the bill actually went backwards on financial literacy education by not only failing to add financial literacy to the requirements, but also repealing the law requiring every school to offer it as an elective. Thanks to your advocacy, and a public outcry that included a guest editorial by several past Teachers of the Year that was organized by our Education Reform Director Mandi Torrez (New Mexico’s 2020 Teacher of the Year) and published in newspapers across the state, the House amended the bill. House Bill 126 now explicitly incorporates personal financial literacy into the government and economics course that is required for all high school students. This will ensure that every high school student receives at least some education in the basics of financial literacy. It also requires all high schools to offer standalone courses in financial literacy, world languages, career technical education, and several other subjects, ensuring that students will not lose access to these important classes. The bill passed the House 64-3, the Senate 40-0, and it is now sitting on the governor’s desk. We still have reservations about the fact that the legislation reduces the number of required credits from 24 to 22, and we would still like to ensure that all students complete at least one class in a language other than English and in career technical education, but it is significantly better than it was when it was introduced.  Teacher Residencies, Principal Pay and Training (HB2, HB 199) As we mentioned in our email update last week, several of the other priority reforms in roadmap report were funded in the budget (House Bill 2), including $15 million for teacher residencies, $10 million for professional development for teachers and principals, $2 million for principal and support staff residencies, and $8 million for principal pay raises. House Bill 199, which passed both the House and Senate and is awaiting the governor’s signature, included an adjustment to the public school funding formula that increases salaries for school principals, who have historically been significantly underpaid relative to their responsibility and impact on students.  Maximizing Education Funding to the Classroom (SB 438; SJM 14) Senate Bill 438 proposed to limit the growth of school district central administrative spending to no faster than the growth of spending at the school site. Because one factor driving the growth of central administrative spending is the growth in state reporting requirements, the bill also laid out a strategy to identify and eliminate nonessential, redundant, and unnecessarily burdensome reporting requirements on school districts, with a goal of reducing the number of state reports by at least 25%. Unfortunately Senate Bill 438 did not receive a hearing as it was opposed by the associations representing superintendents and school boards.    In order to salvage the part of the bill focused on reducing reporting requirements, Think New Mexico put that section of the bill into a new piece of legislation, Senate Joint Memorial 14, which was introduced by Senators Gay Kernan (R-Hobbs) and Martin Hickey (D-Albuquerque), who both serve on the Senate Education Committee. SJM 14 passed the Senate 36-0 on Thursday and the House unanimously this morning! Smaller Class Sizes (HB 413) In House Bill 413, Think New Mexicoproposed an innovative approach that would set lower class size limits for schools that have high populations of at-risk students and would restrict the use of PED waivers to exceed those limits. The bill received a very favorable hearing in the House Education Committee, but the committee chose not to move it forward because there was not money included in this year’s budget to reduce class sizes. However, the committee was eager to make this reform a priority for next year, and we plan to work with them to get this legislation enacted in 2024.  Overhauling the State’s Colleges of Education (HB 460) Think New Mexico drafted House Bill 460 to improve the state’s colleges of education, with reforms including ensuring that the curricula are grounded in current best practices, including evidence-based math and literacy instruction; increasing qualifications of faculty; and converting the final year of the four-year programs into a teacher residency, a paid year-long experience in a classroom alongside an experienced teacher. Teachers who participate in residencies are better prepared and are significantly less likely to leave the profession in their first few years. The House Education Committee declined to schedule the bill for a hearing, explaining that they want to study our proposals further over the coming year. With enrollment in New Mexico’s colleges of education having fallen by 75% in the past decade, we are urging the legislature’s education leaders to make these reforms a priority for 2024.  Enhancing School Board Performance (HB 325) House Bill 325 included several commonsense reforms from our roadmap report to enhance the training, transparency, and accountability of school board members, such as by requiring all school board candidates to disclose their campaign contributions, webcast their meetings, and require members who violate the prohibition against nepotism to step down from the board. The enhanced training would include things like the role of local school boards in improving student academic performance and outcomes and effective governance practices and strategies for supporting and supervising the local superintendent. Think New Mexico organized a coalition to support HB 325, including individual school board members from communities across the state as well as the League of Women Voters of New Mexico, Common Cause New Mexico, the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government, the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce, the New Mexico Chamber of Commerce, Teach Plus, the National Education Association, and the American Federation of Teachers. It was opposed by the NM School Boards Association, which stridently objected to the campaign finance disclosures and to adding a penalty for nepotism. HB 325 passed the House Government, Elections, and Indian Affairs Committee 7-1. Unfortunately, after an intense, two-hour debate, the House Education Committee tabled the bill on an 8-4 vote. While we were disappointed, we are committed to bringing back these reforms next year, as the quality of education in our public schools requires the best possible leadership at the top.  Social Security Inflation Adjuster Sent to Governor (HB 547) Last year, we successfully advocated for the repeal of the double tax on Social Security income for lower and middle-income New Mexicans. This year, we built on that victory by successfully advocating for a provision in the omnibus tax bill that increases the Social Security tax exemptions for inflation. This means that, once the governor signs the bill, the income thresholds to qualify for the tax exemption on Social Security income (currently $100,000 for individuals, $150,000 for married couples) will increase each year to keep pace with inflation and continue protecting all middle and lower income seniors from being taxed on their Social Security.  Strategic Water Reserve Funding Sent to Governor (HB 2; SB 192) Finally, the $7.5 million for the Strategic Water Reserve in the budget bill, House Bill 2 – along with an additional $150,000 in the supplemental appropriations bill, Senate Bill 192 – survived the legislative process and is on the governor’s desk awaiting her signature. The Strategic Water Reserve is the water management tool that Think New Mexico successfully championed nearly two decades ago to keep our rives running to prevent conflicts over endangered species and interstate river compacts. Think New Mexico’s Associate Director Kristina Fisher worked closely with a coalition of other groups to advocate for the funding in this year’s budget.  Thank you all so much for your kind words of support and especially for the 4,078 emails you sent to your legislators and the governor on all of these issues over the last 60 days! Your dedicated activism helped us make as much progress as we did during this year’s legislative session, and we take it as a vote of confidence in this work as we begin laying the foundation for next year.   Fred, Kristina, Susan, and MandiThink New Mexico


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