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RGF’s latest at National Review: Stagnant New Mexico a Case Study in Why Economic Policies Matter

The following appeared at National Review on May 24, 2021.

The U.S. Census Bureau recently released population data showing how the population of America and its 50 states had shifted between 2010 and 2020. As has been the case for decades, Midwestern “Rust Belt” states overall lost representation, while fast-growing states in the Southwest gained seats (Texas added two and Colorado one). For the first time ever, California actually lost a congressional seat.

Yet overlooked by the national media in all of this was what can only be described as the impending creation of a population “donut hole” in the otherwise fast-growing Southwest — that is, my home state of New Mexico.

While Utah and Arizona didn’t add congressional seats as New Mexico’s other neighbors Colorado and Texas did, both states saw double-digit population growth for the decade. New Mexico’s population, on the other hand, grew at just 2.8 percent over that period. That puts the state on par with Vermont and just ahead of Maine, at 2.6 percent.

When neighboring Utah grows at 18.4 percent and Texas grows by 15.9 percent — and your own state’s population barely increases — there must be a problem. Hint: It’s not the weather. A variety of factors have been driving Americans to move from the Northeast to the Southwest, including the search of better weather. But New Mexico’s is unparalleled. It is sunnier than Florida and doesn’t have the oppressive 120-degree summer heat of Phoenix. And it really is a “dry” heat without the muggy humidity of Texas.

As if New Mexico’s minuscule 2.8 percent population growth was not pathetic enough, the details are even more troubling. Over the decade, New Mexico, a state with just over 2 million people, gained 103,506 people over the age of 65. Clearly, the state’s weather, inexpensive housing, and unique cultural offerings are attractive to a certain segment of retirees.

But over the same period, New Mexico lost 71,142 people 64 and younger, including 51,382 residents aged 24 and younger. This kind of population stagnation simply isn’t supposed to happen in the booming American Southwest. It is New Mexico’s slowest growth since statehood in 1912; and, to make matters worse yet, analysts believe that New Mexico could lose overall population when this data is collected again ten years from now.

Could New Mexico, with an ethnically diverse, rapidly aging, slow growing population, in some way serve as an early proxy for the nation as a whole? The United States population still grew by 7.4 percent over the last decade. How, then, did a state located right in the middle of the fastest-growing region of the country perform so poorly? More important, what can be done about it?

First, to begin to appreciate the extent of New Mexico’s problems, we must understand its lack of economic freedom. According to the Fraser Institute’s annual “Economic Freedom of North America” report, New Mexico is in the bottom quartile of U.S. states when it comes to the ability of its residents to keep their hard-earned money and face reasonable economic regulations.

All of New Mexico’s fast-growing neighbors are ranked higher. To be sure, this is notable but unsurprising: High levels of economic freedom are strongly associated with increased population growth.

New Mexico’s path to becoming the “sick man of the American Southwest” is complicated. Unlike California, another state with great weather and physical beauty, but terrible public policies, New Mexico has never been the “it” place to be. For its many flaws, California remains the country’s largest state in population, with dozens of the world’s most-recognizable companies headquartered there.

New Mexico has chosen a different path. Not only do we have no Fortune 500 companies headquartered here, but the state possesses only a few publicly traded corporate headquarters. Instead, since the end of World War II, New Mexico’s economy has been based on a combination of massive federal spending and a robust oil and gas industry.

Whereas California has numerous tech companies and their well-off employees to pay the state’s ever-increasing tax burdens, New Mexico remains among the poorest states in the nation. Of course, it shouldn’t be, but like California, bad public policy holds the land of enchantment back.

By any measuring stick, New Mexico is heavily dependent on federal spending. (According to WalletHub, it is more so than any other state.) Outside of Washington’s largesse, oil is New Mexico’s other major industry. Indeed, New Mexico is the third-biggest-oil-producing state in the nation. Depending on the year, it accounts for between 30 and 40 percent of the state’s budget.

One might expect that having two national nuclear labs — along with their highly educated and well-paid employees — would be a ticket to economic prosperity. Add, too, the billions of dollars in annual tax payments and the jobs and economic activity they bring, and it would seem to most outsiders that New Mexico should be the richest state in the region.

But it turns out that having sound, free-market public policies trumps massive federal “investment” and natural-resource wealth. New Mexico’s lack of economic freedom is a direct result of the state’s political leadership not wanting to do the hard work of adopting the free-market policies that would make New Mexico competitive with its neighbors.

It doesn’t have to be this way. With its excellent weather and numerous outdoor and cultural activities, New Mexico remains well-positioned for growth in the years ahead. The state’s fate ultimately lies with the voters who have to decide to elect politicians to the legislature and governor’s mansion who are prepared to enact the free-market policies on which growth depends.

The same is true for New Mexico as it is for California and various other states. Until a concerted effort is made to make the state more attractive as a relocation destination for businesses, it will continue on the same unhappy trajectory. Shedding ourselves of our unseemly title will require dramatic leadership changes. The only outstanding question is whether we’re willing to make it.

PAUL GESSING is president of New Mexico’s Rio Grande Foundation

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New Mexico Special Election Could Further Reduce Pelosi’s House Majority

The following appeared at National Review on May 4, 2021.

national-review-logo | Jennifer C. Braceras

Nancy Pelosi’s majority in the House of Representatives continues to shrink. The recent swearing-in of Republican Julia Letlow of Louisiana has taken the House Democrats’ majority down to 218–212. This means that Pelosi has a mere two-vote governing majority with which to push the Biden administration’s big-government agenda.

The GOP will soon have another chance to reduce Pelosi’s margin for error when voters in New Mexico’s first congressional district (which includes Albuquerque and its environs) go to the polls to elect a replacement for Biden’s newly minted secretary of the Interior, Deb Haaland, a Democrat. Early voting begins today, while Election Day itself is June 1.

The district is classified by many in the national media as a “blue” district that should safely remain in Democratic hands, and as recently as November 2020, Haaland defeated Republican challenger Michelle Garcia Holmes by an overwhelming 58–42 percent margin. The seat was previously held by New Mexico’s current Democratic governor Michelle Lujan Grisham, and before that, now–senator Martin Heinrich, also a Democrat.

But Republicans have faced challenges in candidate recruitment in recent years in this congressional district. The last time they had a truly top-notch challenger was in 2010, when Jon Barela lost just 52–48 to Martin Heinrich, and in 2009 Heather Wilson, a Republican, held the seat, having done so for a decade. With this race being the sole topic of a special election and so much at stake in Washington, this could be a much more interesting contest than outsiders expect.

The candidates to replace Haaland could not be more different. While there is a serious independent contender and the Libertarians technically have major-party status, the Republican and Democrat contenders are state legislators with long histories of voting on important policy issues. Republican senator Mark Moores has been in the New Mexico Senate since 2013. In addition to his prior experience as a staffer for various Republican officeholders Moores played offensive line for the University of New Mexico Lobos.

Melanie Stansbury, on the other hand, was unknown in the state until she ran for the New Mexico house in 2018. Her prior political experience was in the Obama administration’s Office of Management and Budget.

The legislative track records of these two candidates are also drastically different. For starters, Stansbury strongly believes that New Mexicans should have their tax burdens increased rather dramatically.

In 2019, she voted for HB 6, which subsequently became law. Among other provisions, the bill increased taxes on auto sales, imposed taxes on Internet purchases, and increased New Mexico’s personal income tax. Ironically, this tax hike took New Mexico’s top personal income-tax rate from 4.9 percent (set by former Democratic governor Bill Richardson and the Democrat-controlled legislature) and brought it up to 5.9 percent. Moores voted against the tax hike, but it was subsequently signed into law by Governor Lujan Grisham, despite the state having a surplus in excess of $1 billion at the time.

In their most recent legislative session, the New Mexico legislature was back to raising taxes, and Stansbury was more than happy to go along. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic and a state unemployment rate that remains among the worst in the nation, the combined forces of New Mexico’s resurgent oil and gas industry and the massive economic stimuli out of Washington again put the New Mexico budget comfortably in surplus territory.

Nonetheless, Stansbury and other Democrats in New Mexico’s legislature voted for and passed numerous tax hikes. HB 122, which failed after House approval, was subsequently folded into SB 317 and ultimately signed into law. Stansbury voted for the bills both times. The bills increase a tax imposed by the state on health-insurance premiums from 1 percent to 3.75 percent — a tax increase of 275 percent. Moores voted against the tax hike.

As if that were not enough to illustrate the stark difference between these candidates, Stansbury joined her Democratic colleagues in the New Mexico House to push even more egregious tax legislation in the form of HB 291. This bill which passed the House with Stansbury’s support would have again increased New Mexico’s personal income tax, this time to 6.5 percent, but (more problematically) would have revised the state’s personal income-tax structure to make the higher tax rates kick in at much lower income levels than under current law.

On top of this, the proposal Stansbury endorsed would have allowed property-tax assessments to increase by up to 10 percent annually if the property was not occupied by the owner. The current cap in New Mexico limits annual increases to the already-substantial rate of 3 percent per year. The measure was intended to target Texans with second homes in New Mexico, but it would have applied to apartment and condo dwellers as well.

Fortunately for New Mexicans, cooler heads prevailed in the (also Democrat-controlled) Senate Finance Committee, which eliminated the tax hikes from HB 291 before the bill passed into law.

These are just the tax hikes endorsed by Stansbury in her three short years in the New Mexico legislature. During her time in office, she has voted to ban local governments from enacting “Right to Work” laws on the local level, and she voted for New Mexico to abandon the Electoral College, saying instead that it should dedicate its five electoral votes to whatever candidate won the popular vote. The latter would have dramatically diminished what influence small-population New Mexico has in presidential races for no benefit aside from her ideology.

Stansbury is a true big-government radical. Her advocacy of big government in the New Mexico legislature places her to the left of Nancy Pelosi. At a time when every race matters in a closely divided U.S. House, conservatives cannot ignore this special election in a “blue” but winnable district.

 

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Is New Mexico REALLY “Following the Science” on COVID?

Recently (on February 29, 2021), Tracie Collins, M.D., New Mexico Secretary of Health was deposed in a case in US brought by various businesses that have opposed the Gov.’s lockdown policies relating to COVID 19.

The Deposition was videotaped, so we can provide broadcast news outlets (or even just YouTube and similar platforms) with clips. Here is the full transcript of Collins’ deposition.

Key Take-aways:

  1. The Department of Health does not consider the economic impact of lockdowns in crafting its Public Health Orders.
  2. The Department of Health does not adjust “positive COVID test” results to account for false positive tests.
  3. The Department of Health cannot explain why Florida and Texas, which are not locked down, have lower COVID fatality rates than New Mexico. The experiences of other states are not considered by the Secretary or the New Mexico Department of Health in crafting the Public Health Orders.
  4. The Department of Health does not take into consideration other adverse health impacts, like increased depression, suicide, and childhood obesity in crafting the Public Health Orders.
  5. The Secretary places significant reliance on the Department of Health’s legal staff when crafting the Public Health Orders. She does not know if any of the Department’s lawyers have any training or education in public health.
  6. The Secretary is unaware of any scientific studies that support the specific restrictions, prohibitions, and permitted activities under the Public Health Orders.
  7. The Secretary cannot say whether the risk from COVID must be zero, before the Public Health Orders will end.

Below are Page and Line references to deposition testimony:

Data and Experience from other States “can” be considered in crafting New Mexico’s Public Health Orders, but Secretary Collins will not say that it “should” be considered.  See, page 11, line 2 to line 14 (“11:2 – 14”)

The Department of Health has minimized economic harm from the shutdowns by reducing morbidity and mortality from COVID-19 and keeping people alive so that they will have an opportunity at some time in the future to reopen their business.  See page 32, line 24 to page 34, line 5 (“32:24 – 34:5”)

The Department does not track or control for false positive tests, or make adjustments to their numbers based on the presence of false positive tests.  34:11 – 37:17; and 37:21 – 41:11

The Secretary cannot explain why Florida and South Dakota, which are not locked down, have a lower COVID-related fatality rate than New Mexico.  Nor is she interested in using such data to determine whether lockdowns work.  48:3 – 53:19

The Secretary does not know why New Mexico has not done a regression analysis to determine whether the shutdown orders have had a positive impact on COVID transmission rates.  54:2 – 56:2

The Secretary is not aware of New Mexico attempting any other analysis of the adverse economic impact of the shutdown orders.  She does not know if the State has done anything to consider the economic cost and damage caused by the shutdown orders.  She does not know if the economic costs and damages arising from the shutdown orders is significant.  57:15 – 58:22; and 100:15 – 20

The Secretary does not know what adverse health consequences have arisen as a result of having to close business and losing jobs.  The Secretary has done no study regarding the adverse health consequences caused by lockdowns (increased depression, suicide, childhood obestity, etc.).   58:23 – 63:3

The Secretary is not aware of any studies that the business activities that are permitted under the Public Health Orders are less risky than the business activities that have been prohibited.  63:4 – 64:7

The Secretary would have to confer with the Department’s general counsel (i.e., its lawyers) to understand why certain businesses, like TopGolf and New Mexico United are allowed to operate, and others are not.  64:8 – 66:13

The Public Health Orders do not consider the potential harm or damage to the businesses that are being closed.  The Secretary does not know who, if anyone, in State government is supposed to look at the cost and damage to the businesses and people subject to the Public Health Orders.  67:10 – 69:1

The fatality rate from COVID for children ages 5 to 14 is 0.001%, or 1 out of every 100,000 children who contract the virus.  For children age 19 and under, the fatality rate is 0.003% or 3 out of every 100,000 children who contract the virus.  This is lower than the fatality rates for other infectious diseases.  69:4 – 70:4.

New Mexico has not studied the effect of the pandemic on childhood obesity.  72:20 – 74:13

The Secretary is unaware of any studies by the Department of Health of the impact of play deprivation on children resulting from the lockdowns and public health orders.  80:11 – 82:4

The Secretary cannot say whether the Public Health Orders will continue until the risk of COVID is zero.  82:5 – 83:5

In general, other factors such as adverse health consequences to children and adults and adverse economic impacts on businesses and employees are not taken into consideration by the Department or the Secretary when it comes to the contents of the Public Health Orders.  84:5 – 85:8.

Decisions about which businesses are in what category in the Public Health Orders is determined by the legal department working with the Secretary.  The Secretary does not know if there is a “written trail” for the decision as to which type of businesses will go in which category; nor does she know if any of the lawyers in her department have any education in public health.  89:1 – 18

The Secretary is unaware of any analysis or studies that were performed before gyms, group fitness classes, skating rinks, bowling alleys, and personal trainers were taken off the “prohibited from opening list” in the Public Health Order, to the permitted to open under limited capacity list.  93:23 – 94:14

The Secretary would have to confer with the Department’s lawyers before she could say how an industry or particular business activity can have its category or definition changed and be allowed to open.  94:15 – 95:7.

The Secretary would have to confer with the Department’s lawyers to understand why some business that cannot practice social distancing, like massage parlors, barbershops and nail salons are open, while other businesses, like trampoline parks and other “close-contact recreational facilities” where the Department is concerned about social distancing, are closed.  100:21 -101:23.

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New Mexico session another missed opportunity

The following appeared in the Las Cruces Sun News on Sunday, March 28, 2021. UPDATE: Originally the article stated there was a production moratorium on federal lands. There is “only” a moratorium on new permits.

New Mexico is in one of the most unusual economic times in its history. Profound forces have impacted our State over the last year in unforeseen ways.

    • The Gov. and COVID shut down much of our State for much of the past year. COVID is declining, but New Mexico remains among the most locked-down states in the nation;
    • Oil and gas prices plummeted last April due to the pandemic and an international price war, but have come roaring back and produced $300 million in “new” money and a budget surplus;
    • Democrats in Washington recently passed a $1.9 trillion dollar “stimulus” that will dump an astounding $9 billion on New Mexico State and local governments. Meanwhile the Administration’s moratorium on oil and gas permits on federal lands will cost our State more than $700 million over the next few years according to Gov. Lujan Grisham;
    • While New Mexico governments are awash in money, businesses are struggling to recover. The State’s unemployment rate is 8.7 percent, 4th-worst in the nation.

To say we are living through unpredictable times would be an understatement. Oil and gas have always been volatile but are now more unpredictable than ever. This reflects broader economic uncertainty, but with the Biden Administration targeting the Industry, the Legislature must diversify our economy (this does not mean simply new sources of government revenue).

The unprecedented stream of federal spending flowing into our state is currently augmented by a flow of people. Housing markets are tight in most of our cities as Americans from big, expensive, states like California embrace remote work or simply move to states like New Mexico where they can spread out and buy a house for a lot less money.

Current trends are favorable, but long-term economic prosperity requires enacting policies that make the State more attractive as a business destination. The 2021 Legislature had a few successes but ultimately failed to enact policies that will bring long-term prosperity to New Mexico.

Despite a big budget surplus, the Legislature raised taxes on health insurance (SB 317). They imposed a new sick leave mandate on businesses, including small ones (HB 20). And, passage of HB 4, the misnamed “Civil Rights Act” will impose massive new legal costs on New Mexico governments without actually improving policing or protecting civil rights.

There were bright spots. HB 255 reformed New Mexico’s liquor licensing to make it easier for bars and restaurants long-term. HB 177 passed which allows New Mexicans to start micro-businesses by making non-perishable food items in their homes for sale.

But the gross receipts tax and its taxation of busines inputs and services remains a stumbling block for businesses. New Mexico also remains among a relatively small group of states that tax Social Security. No significant tax cuts or reforms were adopted. Also, no widespread reform of burdensome regulations (like the State’s “prevailing wage” law that artificially increases costs on public works) projects was enacted.

Some will argue that (after a decade of trying) tapping the Permanent fund to boost various education programs will help improve our workforce, but the track record of governments (including New Mexico’s) spending more money to boost education outcomes is spotty at best. Empowering parents and families with the resources needed to choose the educational option that is right for them (especially after a year of Zoom education), is more likely to succeed and at a fraction of the cost, but legislation to that effect was quickly defeated this session.

Microchip manufacturer Intel just announced that it is investing $20 billion in neighboring Arizona to build two new facilities. Such “economic diversification” is exactly what we need and what the Gov. and Legislature claim to want. Until the Legislature gets serious about reforming our economy we’ll continue riding the wave of luck, boom and bust in the oil patch, and Washington debt.

Paul Gessing is president of New Mexico’s Rio Grande Foundation. The Rio Grande Foundation is an independent, nonpartisan, tax-exempt research and educational organization dedicated to promoting prosperity for New Mexico based on principles of limited government, economic freedom and individual responsibility

 

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New Mexico Students and Parents Need School Choice Now

KRWG Public Media (@krwg) | Twitter

The following appeared at KRWG and other news outlets on or around March 18, 2021. It was written by Policy Analyst Frank Pagurko:

Even before the pandemic, the New Mexico education system has performed poorly. Despite the continuous and ever-increasing stream of money from the state designated for education, we consistently rank as one of the worst, if not the worst, states in the nation on educational success. New Mexico spends more per student than most of its neighbors and yet achieves scores far below them on student success. 

These poor outcomes hit students who come from ethnic minority communities and other disadvantaged groups especially hard, as evidenced by the recent Yazzie/Martinez suit against the State of New Mexico. That lawsuit which deemed New Mexico’s education system “inadequate” resulted in a push for additional funding. The results of that increased funding have been thrown into question by the COVID 19 pandemic.

The school shutdowns of the past year have only clarified the long-standing failures of public education in our state. Contrary to statements from the Public Education Department, nearly every education expert from across the spectrum has decried the classroom time lost over the past year as Zoom meetings replaced traditional classes. Notably, in Europe and many other states and in private schools right here in New Mexico, many students hardly missed any time in class.

    The problem is the “one-size-fits-all” nature of our education system. It is time to allow parents to choose which kind of school is best for their own children. As of spring 2020, 30 states have implemented at least one private school choice program, such as a voucher system, tax credit, or savings program. Legislative proposals have been introduced in 14 more states, including New Mexico. Unfortunately, New Mexicans keep electing political leaders in the Legislature who are more beholden to the interests of teachers unions than they are to the students themselves.

By funding students rather than systems, school choice programs would allow parents the legal right and financial ability to send their children to the school of their choice, or provide financial resources to home school them. Wealthy families already have this option, of course, but school choice programs extend those opportunities to those who have fewer financial resources. Research shows that low-income families are the primary beneficiaries of school choice programs across the country. School choice, at its core, is about improving education for all students by leveling the financial playing field.

Those who have a vested interest in the status quo, such as the teacher’s unions, claim that school choice weakens public schools. That is simply not true. According to data gathered by Edchoice, 26 out of 28 studies on the subject have shown that educational outcomes improve for all students, those who take advantage of school choice as well as those who remain in the public school system, in states with robust school choice options.

Educational dollars should not serve the public school system per se or teachers unions in the first place. They should serve students. Funding should be channeled to whichever source of education best serves the needs of individual students.

Famed union organizer Albert Shanker once was quoted as saying, “When school children start paying union dues, that’s when I’ll start representing them.”

Especially in New Mexico our school kids have been simply left out of the equation. Too many families in our State are locked into this broken system by their financial circumstances. Private school choice would change that and improve student outcomes. The solution to education in New Mexico is not the continuation of the status quo, but rather what may seem to many like revolutionary change. Now is the time to fund students rather than systems.

Frank Pagurko is a Policy Analyst at New Mexico’s Rio Grande Foundation. The Rio Grande Foundation is an independent, non-partisan, tax-exempt research and educational organization dedicated to promoting prosperity for New Mexico based on principles of limited government, economic freedom and individual responsibility.

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Independent analysis: New Mexico K-12 school opening rate among slowest in US

As if New Mexico students didn’t already face serious challenges, see this quote from the New York Times (which, to their credit has been pushing for schools to reopen). 

Unfortunately, you can’t embed the map here, but as of Feb. 22, New  Mexico schools are among the least reopened in the entire nation, a situation that is problematic for our State and its future. According to the Burbio data:

New Mexico schools are 21.3% open;
Arizona is 68.6%;
Utah is 90.2%;
Colorado is 77.1%;
Oklahoma is 67.5%;
Texas is 90.8%.

Whether these states spend more or less than New Mexico on K-12 and whether or not they have expensive pre-K programs, every other state in the region is blowing the doors off New Mexico. Of course, our State’s largest school district, Albuquerque Public Schools, has already punted on the entire 2020-2021 school year.

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Let them play! And let them go to school!

The fact that Albuquerque Public Schools has refused to reopen its doors to students for the duration of the 2020-2021 school year means (under Gov. Lujan Grisham’s COVID 19 rubric) that students at APS schools won’t be able to play sports. This led to protests over the weekend.

Should APS students be able to play sports? Should they be allowed to go back to school? The simple answer is YES to both. For the duration of COVID 19 the Rio Grande Foundation has urged policymakers to maximize individuals’ ability to decide how much risk they are willing to tolerate in going about their lives (or taking COVID precautions).

Ultimately, the problem here is one-size-fits-all policies that put policymakers in charge of decisions for which they simply do not have the capacity to make basic tradeoffs. The one-size-fits-all component transcends COVID. It has been a harmful feature of the government education monopoly for decades.

Of course, private schools have been open throughout the COVID situation. They have both a financial interest in what students and families want (as opposed to what unions want).

 

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Tracking New Mexico School District Reopening

The Rio Grande Foundation has long called for basic education reforms that would empower parents and families when it comes to education resources including school choice. But, with the onset of COVID 19 and many districts moving to “virtual only” models, we have joined the Centers for Disease Control and many others in calling for students to return to their classrooms.

We will be tracking announced school reopenings under Gov. Lujan Grisham’s latest orders which call for hybrid learning for ALL students to begin on February 8. Check this space for updates. We gleaned this information from various district and news websites. If you have new info please let us know at: info@riograndefoundation.org

DistrictDate
AlamogordoSecondary – Feb. 16, Elementary – Feb. 22
AlbuquerqueDelayed decision
ArtesiaFeb. 8
BloomfieldSome primary students in hybrid already, Secondary – Feb. 16
CarlsbadFeb. 8
CentralSecondary – Feb. 16
CloudcroftPrimary already in-person, Secondary – Feb. 9
ClovisPre-K-5th already in hybrid, other grades under consideration
CubaRemote through March 5
EstanciaSecondary – Feb. 8
FarmingtonPrimary already hybrid, 6th, 9th graders – Feb 8, Other secondary Feb. 16
Fort SumnerMiddle, High school – Feb. 8
Gallup-McKinleyAll grades — Feb. 9
HobbsElementary – Feb. 8, 6th, 9th, 10th grade – Feb. 11-12, all students – Feb. 16
Las CrucesWill allow students who need in-person, but delayed broader reopening
Las VegasWill remain virtual throughout the rest of the school year
Magdalena6th-12th grade – Feb. 8
PortalesAll grades — Feb. 9
Rio RanchoElementary students have been in hybrid model. No broader plan yet
RoswellWill restart this month, no date yet
Santa FeAll grades — Feb. 22
SilverMiddle, High school – Feb. 15-18
Truth or ConsequencesAll students Feb. 16
TucumcariAll students Feb. 8
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RGF recent radio appearances

This has been a big week for the Rio Grande Foundation on the air. Paul recently sat down with Bob Clark of KKOB 96.3FM. You can find that show here. Bob and Paul discuss numerous topics from the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg and her legacy as well as well as Paul’s family’s efforts to home school their children.

Paul also sat down with Jim Williams at KNKT Radio 107.1 FM. We discussed numerous issues in their discussion. You can listen to that discussion at the link above or by clicking on the image below.

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Expanding New Mexico state pre-K would be a costly mistake

The following appeared in the Albuquerque Journal on August 10, 2020:

The Legislative Finance Committee (LFC) recently released a study of the “inaugural cohort” of the state’s pre-K program, concluding that “prekindergarten remains a cost-effective way to improve student outcomes.” But the LFC’s own data shows that expanding pre-K would instead be a costly mistake.

The LFC’s study cites “statistically significant” improvements in children’s outcomes, which in real life are essentially meaningless. Children who attended pre-K scored barely higher on the six kindergarten-entry readiness domains measured — just a couple of percentage points at most. In the crucial areas of literacy and mathematics, only about 60% were kindergarten-ready, whether they attended pre-K or not.

Differences in third-grade PARCC proficiencies, too, were tiny. Almost three-quarters of both pre-K and non-pre-K groups failed to meet third-grade PARCC proficiency in English: 70.3% of pre-K attendees and 71.9% of non-attendees. Roughly two-thirds of both groups failed to meet standards in math: 65.9% of children who went to pre-K compared to 68.1% of children who did not.

If pre-K were affecting children’s achievement, New Mexico’s National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) scores would be rising as pre-K attendance goes up. From 2011 to 2019, however, while the percentage of fourth-graders who had attended pre-K almost tripled, the percentage scoring at or above Basic on the NAEP reading exam remained precisely the same at 53%. In math, that percentage actually declined from 75% to 72%.

The largest outcome differences the LFC reports are for chronic absence — missing over 10% of school — and high school graduation within four years. Twelve percent of children who went to pre-K were chronically absent compared to 16% of those who did not attend. Eighty percent of the 1,540 students in the inaugural pre-K cohort graduated within four years compared to 74% of the roughly 25,000 students who had not gone to pre-K 14 years prior.

Both these differences are likely caused by parents, though, not by children starting school when they’re 4 instead of 5. Parents who voluntarily send their 4-year-old to school for an entire year also probably try harder to make sure their child attends school regularly and graduates on time.

That is, children who attend pre-K have exactly the parents most likely to ensure their success throughout schooling. And the influence of a child’s parents greatly outweighs a single year of school, whether that’s pre-K or fifth grade.

Finally, the LFC study concludes that pre-K is a cost-effective use of taxpayer dollars. But compared to what? “Cost effectiveness” means comparing various programs to determine which yield the biggest results for the same expenditure of limited resources.

Policymakers can’t decide if spending $100 on Program X makes sense if they only know it yields an eventual benefit of $106. How does $106 compare to the benefit of spending $100 on other programs with the same goal? In the case of improving school achievement, the LFC itself has identified approaches far more effective than pre-K.

In a 2017 study, the LFC found that teacher quality had the “most impact on a student’s academic achievement” of all school-related factors, reporting positive effects which were orders of magnitude larger than any associated with pre-K. Children’s PARCC scores in math and reading varied by up to 49 percentage points over three years, depending on whether they had effective or ineffective teachers. Low-performing schools that participated in “Teachers Pursuing Excellence” peer mentoring increased the percentage of students scoring at proficient or above on the PARCC exam from 24% to 35% in reading and 16% to 27% in math, over just two years.

Policymakers should be seeking the most effective use of resources to improve student outcomes and help children who need help the most. Based on the LFC’s recent study, adding a pre-K grade to the public schools seems like more of a “cost-effective way” to rearrange deck chairs on the Titanic.