By Zully Rodriguez | Community Organizer, Partnership for Community Action
With an education crisis in the State of New Mexico that has lasted at least a decade, and a pandemic that has forced our students to deal with problems ranging from internet access, to the fact that they are having to face education alone from home, we must ask ourselves: will a mandatory extension to 2021-2022 school calendar make a difference in our children’s academic results?
According to Senate Bill 40 (SB40), sponsored by Senator Mimi Stewart (D), the answer is yes. SB40 states that according to data presented in the Yazzie-Martinez lawsuit against the State of New Mexico, “evidence shows that money spent on classroom instructional programs such as K-5 Plus, extended school year and quality teachers can improve the performance of at-risk students and overcome the gap caused by their background.” This is precisely the goal of SB40, making extended instruction time mandatory for all students in public schools, including charter schools. Of course, this is if in-person instruction is not prohibited by an executive order from the State, or a resolution from the local school board.
For many people returning back to in-person learning may represent a return to normalcy. But returning to normal does not mean our children return to a quality education. To achieve quality education, investment and new ideas are needed to help our children thrive. Our State faces a crisis that will hardly be solved with extended instructional time alone. It is a good proposal, but much more is needed.
Quality teachers is one of the main ingredients that SB40 claims as a basis for reducing or overcoming the gap that low-income students in New Mexico face. However, our children need good teachers and opportunities even before they start kindergarten. The first five years in child development are key to setting a strong base and preparing our children to be ready for school. Teachers need the security of permanent funding for education initiatives, including early childhood education programs. Furthermore, permanent funding for education must result in better salaries, ongoing training, and extra help in classrooms,especially for early educators. How sad and shameful that in our state, teachers and teacher’s assistants need to take on part-time employment after a hard day’s work in the classroom to provide for their families. Teachers need more supportーtheir classroom work, lesson planning, and exam prep is never ending and constant. Teachers need assistants so they can focus on what really matters to them, and their students: teaching.
Yes, we must start with quality teachers, but there is a long list of what we need to do to improve our State’s education system for our children. One sole approach is not sufficient, we need proposals like SB40 and HJR1 to pass the legislative body to improve the future of our state. HJR1 is the proposal to increase distribution by 1% from the State’s $22 billion Land Grant Permanent Fund to provide permanent and reliable funding for early childhood programs.
This pandemic has made the inequities and gaps in our education system more noticeable. Extra instructional time, well compensated teachers, and quality early childhood programs are essential initiatives to improve our educational system. The silver lining of this pandemic is that we see the urgent needs of our children clearly, and now we have the momentum to pass legislation like SB40 and HJR1 to make the necessary improvements in our education system. These two pieces of legislation are just the start of how weー teachers, parents, schools, and the state can work together to provide our children the quality education they deserve.