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Talking New Mexico economy in Clovis

RGF president Paul Gessing traveled to Clovis, NM recently to discuss the State’s economy and education systems and what can be done to improve them. You can see the slides from the powerpoint presentation here and if you are part of a civic group that would like to hear a similar message, please don’t hesitate to reach out to info@riograndefoundation.org to schedule something.

Paul’s remarks were well covered by the Eastern New Mexico News.

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Education Legislature Notable News Tax and Budget Top Issues

NM needs to make all those education dollars work for kids

The following appeared in the Albuquerque Journal on July 14, 2022.

Superintendent Scott Elder recently called this the “hardest year we’ve ever been through” due in largely to the need to reduce the number of staffed positions, including teachers, at Albuquerque Public Schools.

Change is hard, especially for large bureaucracies like New Mexico’s largest school district. But change is necessary at APS. That’s not just the Rio Grande Foundation’s view; it is the conclusion of the Legislative Finance Committee’s recent report on APS, which shows a district awash in money but bleeding students.

Many families, like my own, have left APS. Many families felt betrayed by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s COVID school closings, which cost students a year of classroom time and a great deal of academic and social progress. The governor’s decision to shutter the schools will have lasting, negative impacts on our children that are only now starting to be accounted for. Many families with the resources to do so left the district or even the state. Many aren’t coming back.

To maximize the beneficial use of the district’s resources, the LFC recommends “right-sizing” the district’s “footprint,” including eliminating teaching and other positions as well as reducing the number of facilities including school buildings to reflect a shrinking student population. This trend began before COVID but has accelerated since.

The LFC’s numerous other recommendations need to be implemented. I do believe the current school board wants to allocate resources in ways that make sense for the district and its 71,000 students.

But the APS Board of Education doesn’t fully control the district’s budget; the Legislature and governor do. And, with money flowing into the state at unprecedented levels, the political incentives in Santa Fe are aligned to pour more money into the system. When money is plentiful, politicians are loath to make difficult and often unpopular decisions to redeploy resources. Sadly, the LFC can write reports, but until politicians in Santa Fe act, things won’t improve.

It is time to put to bed the myth of “underfunded” local schools. With the recent adoption of the district’s $1.93 billion budget divided over 71,000 students, APS will be set to spend a whopping $27,000 per student in fiscal 2023.

In addition to “right-sizing,” APS needs to implement innovative approaches to simultaneously improving educational outcomes. Alas, this governor and Legislature have chosen to keep power and money centralized in Santa Fe rather than fully empowering local leaders or, heaven forbid, parents, to decide what makes the most sense for themselves and their families.

While the local school board has limited power over serious reforms, they can be advocates for charter schools and work to expand that important form of school choice. Expanding intra-district choice is an additional way to expand educational freedom.

But real education reform in New Mexico must come from the top. Republican gubernatorial candidate Mark Ronchetti has stated clearly that he wants to bring school choice to our state by having money follow the students. Poll after poll shows Americans agree with him, a trend that also has accelerated since COVID. Parents and families should be able to use their education funds to pursue options that work for them, not the bureaucrats in Santa Fe.

Change won’t happen overnight. As a starting point we need a governor who will stand up to those who want to keep the failed status quo and just spend more money. Even a reform-minded governor can’t do it alone as real school choice needs buy-in from the Legislature. So, right-sizing and reforming APS – including but by no means limited to school choice – will requires cooperation and buy-in from many different groups of elected officials. We have a lot of work to do for our children, but now is the time to begin.

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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Education Notable News Top Issues

RGF column: N.M. should think twice about universal pre-K

This piece ran in the Santa Fe New Mexican on June 25.

As we move beyond a contentious series of primaries in both parties and look to the fall election, one of the big issues on the fall ballot is the plan to “tap” New Mexico’s permanent fund to provide universal preschool. For years this has been an agenda item for the State’s left-leaning interest groups. But it only received legislative support with the retirement of Senate Finance Committee Chairman John Arthur Smith.

This November voters will decide whether to “allocate 1.25 percent of the five-year average of year-end market values of the money in the Land Grant Permanent Fund to early childhood education.” The Legislative Finance Committee estimates that the additional allocation would be about $245.7 million in fiscal year 2023. Of that total, $126.9 million would be allocated for early childhood education, $84.6 million to public education, and $34.2 million for the Land Grant Permanent Fund’s other beneficiaries.

The plan is to provide “free,” “universal” pre-K to all New Mexico 3- and 4-year-olds.

Advocates and supporters tout all kinds of supposed benefits of government-funded pre-K, but the best available study of the issue (involving a randomized control) of a similar program that has been in place since 2005 in Tennessee found pre-K had negative impacts on children.

According to the study undertaken by Vanderbilt University, “Children who attended Tennessee’s state-funded voluntary pre-K program during the 2009-10 and 2010-11 school years were doing worse than their peers by the end of sixth grade in academic achievement, discipline issues and special education referrals. The trend emerged by the end of third grade and was even more pronounced three years later.”

One of the study authors, Dale Farran of Vanderbilt’s Peabody College said of the results, “The kinds of pre-K that our poor children are going into are not good for them long-term.” Furthermore, “[We] have let ourselves get into the idea that what these children need is a lot more academic instruction. … It’s just the opposite. What you would like to give poor children is a feeling of being cared for and being successful.”

While other pre-K studies often seem to show positive results from massive government “investment” in pre-K programs, few of those studies feature a control group. In other words, most studies look at two different groups whose parents chose pre-K and those who didn’t choose it and compare the results. That mostly shows parents who choose pre-K tend to place a high value on education. That skews the results in favor of the programs. There are much more sensible and cost-effective alternatives to “universal” taxpayer-funded pre-K. This might include a system of voluntary home visits for purposes of helping parents learn to be better parents. Alas, those don’t come with a taxpayer-funded bureaucracy and expansion of employment opportunities for teachers.

Unfortunately, the ballot presents a simple “Yes” or “No” option for voters. It is difficult to mount an effective campaign against a ballot measure when the alternative is essentially “do nothing.”

This is just one of the flaws in our state’s numerous “permanent” funds, including the Land Grant Permanent Fund, created in 1893, long before New Mexico became a state. Dedicated funding for beneficiaries may seem like a good thing, but giving government bureaucrats a dedicated stream of money without real accountability or the ability for policymakers to shift resources when needs change is far from ideal.

In Tennessee, where again pre-K was found to have negative outcomes, pre-K is funded by a combination of lottery revenue and general education funds. Sadly, putting pre-K funding on autopilot as New Mew Mexico’s constitutional amendment proposes is even less likely to lead to quality outcomes and accountable results for our children.

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.

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Albuquerque Public Schools’ new budget pushes per-pupil spending above $27,000

The Rio Grande Foundation has been tracking per-pupil spending at Albuquerque Public Schools for several years. We use the simple mathematical technique of dividing the total annual budget by the number of students in the district, a number which has declined dramatically in recent years.

Most APS budgets are here while the 2023 data comes from the following Albuquerque Journal article. There was no APS budget in FY 2021 so we attempted to calculate based on recent trends.

On a PER PUPIL basis, APS spends 64% MORE in FY 2023 than it did in FY 2019.

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Education Notable News Top Issues

Just when you thought the Biden Administration had bottomed out, now they are coming after charter schools

Click here to submit comments by April 13th (UPDATE: the deadline is now Monday, April 18) to the US Department of Education, letting them know you oppose new rules being considered by the Biden Administration that would negatively impact charter schools.

The following are several specific impacts of the proposed rules (RGF’s Comments follow the bullets):

  • Through a new prescriptive definition of “community impact”, the Department seeks to limit funding to ONLY charters that show they aren’t reducing district enrollment. This requirement empowers grant reviewers to veto state and local decisions to authorize schools by denying applicants funding based on whether the reviewers, who typically are not part of these communities, agree that community needs are met.
  • The new definition of “community impact”, puts the interest of the district above the interest of students and families, and does not consider the quality of the open seats, therefore restricting minority and low-income students to open seats. These students not only deserve an open seat; they deserve a high-quality seat.
  • This proposal exhibits a stunning lack of recognition of current realities. Two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, our nation’s children are in crisis. Widespread school closures produced dramatic learning losses, a decline in college enrollment, and a rapid rise in mental-health challenges experienced both by adults and students that are profoundly challenging families and public education. During this time more, rather than fewer, parents have sought to enroll their children in high-performing public charter schools.Overall, the rules make no mention of how any of these new hurdles will address learning loss or improve student achievement for the most vulnerable student populations. In fact, “academic achievement” is only mentioned twice in the text of the rule and not in a manner that shows how any requirement will improve such achievement.
  • The rules would require applicants to propose racially and economically diverse models, without a definition of diversity and regardless of community needs. This will disadvantage urban areas, culturally affirming school models and models serving indigenous populations. These are the very kind of schools that communities of color have been asking for, and that research supports as effective for historically underserved students
  • The regulations also shift power to the districts, and away from families, by mandating that charters partner with districts to receive priority points and funding in state competitions. There is no corresponding obligation or expectation that district schools invite, pursue, or be open to such cooperative arrangements. This requirement places the power of a community’s educational choices right back in the hands of the district they opted out of, regardless of how willing the charter is to build a partnership.
  • The number of new requirements on top of an already complex program will discourage smaller and more innovative models. These models are the very schools that are often led by leaders of color and by leaders from the community they are seeking to serve.

The Rio Grande Foundation is a public policy think tank based in Albuquerque, New Mexico and that works on public policy issues throughout the State.

New Mexico has historically been one of the very worst performing states in the entire country, consistently ranking 49th of 50th on various indices of school performance. That was BEFORE students lost a full year in their classrooms during the Pandemic. Since then, further data has indicated that New Mexico students have fallen even further behind.

Charter schools are the only form of school choice available to most New Mexican students. Charters have performed at higher levels than traditional public schools and provide unique options for students in this uniquely diverse state. Many of the highest performing schools in New Mexico are charter schools.

These proposed regulations provide a number of unnecessary hoops for New Mexico families who wish to purse charters. The regulations would also have a negative impact on the ability of charter schools to be formed and to provide the unique educational options that simply aren’t available in traditional public schools.

I urge you to reject these regulations that will negatively impact charter schools in New Mexico and across the nation.

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2022 Freedom Index Results Published

The Rio Grande Foundation uses its “Freedom Index” vote tracking site to  hold New Mexico legislators accountable for their stances on individual freedom and personal liberty. We have rated all bills that impact individual freedom that received floor votes for the 2022 session and thus the current Index results are “final.”

Every bill receiving a score is rated on a scale from -8 through +8 depending on its overall impact on YOUR personal freedom. In the 2022 session the most impactful vote (-8) was on SB 14, the Clean Fuel Standard. A full analysis of that bill can be found here.

The BEST bill voted on this session was HB 163, that is the bill which includes several tax cuts (RGF analysis of that bill here). It received a +4 rating in the Index.

Rep. Stefani Lord (R) who represents parts of the East Mountains of Albuquerque scored a 45 which was the highest rating of the session.

Rep. Randall Pettigrew (R) who represents Lea County scored a 43 which was good for the 2nd-highest rating of the session.

Sen. Craig Brandt (R) who represents Rio Rancho scored 33 which was the highest rating for any senator (the Senate and House vote on different bills and the House typically takes more votes and thus has higher and lower scores).

Sen. Antoinette Sedillo-Lopez (D) who represents parts of Albuquerque scored -66 which was the lowest rating for any member of the Legislature.

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RGF opinion piece: Session could have been a lot worse

The following appeared in several newspapers in the wake of New Mexico’s 2022 legislative session including the Carlsbad Current-Argus on February 23, 2022.

The 2022 30-day legislative session could have been much worse. It is no secret that we at the Rio Grande Foundation have disagreed with most of Michelle Lujan Grisham’s major efforts as Governor. She surprised many of us in her State of the State speech when she proposed elimination of the Social Security tax in New Mexico.

After three years of ruling as a hard left “progressive,” the Governor’s change of tune heading into the 2022 session was notable. Is her move solely due to her impending reelection? We’ll never know, but it is a welcome shift.

The most notable good legislation that passed this session was the tax cuts (HB 163). Unfortunately, the Social Security tax was not completely eliminated, but it will no longer apply to a vast majority of taxpayers. As a bonus, military pensioners received a break on their pensions for at least the next 5 years.

The State gross receipts tax rate will be cut under the tax reform package (barring a drop in state revenues) and a small child tax credit was added. Finally, the Legislature acknowledged that gross receipts tax pyramiding on business-to-business service inputs is a problem, but they only addressed the issue for manufacturers.

These tax cuts, if fully enacted, will reduce tax revenues by $400 million or so annually, are dwarfed by the massive increase in government spending. Spending rose by $1 billion this year alone.

All of this is thanks (mostly) to the booming oil and gas industry which shows no sign of slowing down, but money being printed up in Washington also played a role. Of course, while the Gov. will tout the raises for government employees in general and teachers specifically, with the current rate of inflation, those raises won’t be as helpful to families’ bottom lines.

Numerous bad bills were considered during the session that (thankfully) died. Most notable among these was SB 14 the “Clean Fuel Standard.” While rising gas prices have contributed to the State’s budget surplus, for average New Mexicans high gas prices are just another sign of inflation. Given those high prices it was a shock that Lujan Grisham made it her mission to pass this legislation, which would have increased gas prices at the pump by 35 cents/gallon.

The bill became even more confusing when, in the waning days of the session, an amendment was added to keep the San Juan Generating Station coal fired plant in Farmington open through next summer. PNM which owns the plant is nervous that it won’t have enough electricity to keep the lights on when the plant closes in June to comply with Lujan Grisham’s 2019 “green new deal” legislation.

Thankfully, with only hours to go in the session, SB 14 died on a tie vote in the House.

Another bill that, thankfully, died was the so-called “election reform” bill. Starting out, this bill was SB 8 and it had straight party voting, a “permanent” absentee voter list, allowing 16 and 17 year olds to vote, and, most outrageously, a provision allowing mailed ballots to be collected as late as the Friday after the Election Day.

Through a series of amendments and changes the election reform bill became SB 144. It was still problematic due to the unnecessary loosening of voting rules, but it died on the Senate floor as time expired.

Plenty of bills never received a floor vote. The Democrat-dominated Legislature (again) failed to restore a seat at the table for itself in emergencies. On the positive side of things, Las Cruces Sen. Bill Soules’ absurd SB 204 which would have appropriated $1 billion as part of a down payment on a high-speed train from the border with Mexico to Colorado, went nowhere as well.

This session could have been a lot worse. But, a moderately-successful 30-day session with November’s elections staring the Gov. in the face does not an ideological shift make.

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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Best bills of New Mexico Legislature…so far

Despite there being A LOT of bad bills in the 2022 session even with only 30 days to consider them, there ARE some good bills. Here are some of the BEST bills introduced so far. We’ll also “handicap” the likelihood that each bill will pass:

HB 40/HJR 3: Reps. Greg Nibert (R), Daymon Ely (D), Randall T. Pettigrew (R), Stefani Lord (R), and Rachel A. Black (R). This bill/amendment would place limits on the Governor (whoever that may be) and give the Legislature a “seat at the table” in future emergencies. Unfortunately, while similar bills were introduced in the 2021 session which lasted 60 days and a recent special session, this worthwhile bill which has bipartisan sponsorship has a LOW chance of passage.

HB 48/HB 49/SB 108 These bills introduced by Reps. Gail Armstrong (R), Cathrynn N. Brown (R), Randall T. Pettigrew (R) , Candie G. Sweetser (D), Rebecca Dow (R), and Sen. Padilla (D) would end taxation of Social Security under New Mexico’s personal income tax. This issue has been around for a few years, but Gov. Lujan Grisham has said that she supports eliminating the tax. We don’t know EXACTLY what she means (like if she’ll raise other taxes to do it), but these bills DO NOT offset the tax with new taxes. MODERATE chance of passage.

HB 76/SB 85  Reps. Phelps Anderson (I),  Harry Garcia (D)
T. Ryan Lane (R), Joy Garratt (D), Jane E. Powdrell-Culbert (R), and Sen. Harold Pope (D) would give a $30,000 exemption for military pensions. This bill is a worthy follow-up to the Social Security discussion, especially with New Mexico’s large number of ex-military. But, it is unlikely to happen this year. 

HB 91: Reps. Rebecca Dow (R),  Luis M. Terrazas (R),  James G. Townsend (R),  Candy Spence Ezzell, (R), and  Randall T. Pettigrew would prohibit the teaching of Critical Race Theory in New Mexico schools. It is unlikely to pass this year.

HJR 11: Reps. James G. Townsend (R), Ryan Lane (R), Larry Scott (R), Rod Montoya, (R), and Stefani Lord (R) would amend New Mexico’s constitution to specifically allow school funding to flow to families to choose the education option that makes sense for them which may include private schools or home school. Zero Chance of Passage until the unions no longer control New Mexico’s Legislature and Gov.

SB 5: Sen. Bobby Gonzalez (D), reduces the Gross Receipts Tax rate imposed by the State of New Mexico from 5.125% to 4.875 percent. This WAS a top priority of the Gov. prior to the session, but when she asked the Legislature to eliminate the Social Security tax in her State of the State address she seemed to shift emphasis away from reducing GRT rates. We still believe this has a High Chance of Passage.

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Here are some early contenders for worst bills of the 2022 Legislature

As of the day before the 2022 Legislature kicks off, here are some of the worst bills introduced in the session (so far). You can see the updated list of bills introduced in the session here as of January 17, 2022. More will be added. Given the large number of bills likely to be introduced, I’ll also offer a brief thought on how likely they are to pass:

HB 6, Reps. Nathan Small (D) Brian Egolf (D), Kristina Ortez (D), Sens. Siah Correa Hemphill (D), Mimi Stewart (D). Sets legislative framework for “net-zero” CO2 emissions in State of New Mexico. Likelihood of passage: High as Gov. MLG has said she wants to make New Mexico “net-zero.”

HB 11, Reps. Debra Sariñana (D) and Meredith Dixon (D). Creates a tax credit of up to $5,000 and 40% of the cost of “energy storage” systems. Likelihood of passage: High This yet another part of the push toward unreliable forms of electricity that will demand massive and costly battery storage.

HB 14, Reps. Christine Chandler (D) and Debra M. Sariñana (D). Allows local governments to issue Industrial Revenue Bonds (IRB) and gross receipts tax deductions for “energy storage” systems. Likelihood of passage: High(see above).

HB 33, Rep. Joanne Ferrary (D). Imposes massive (regressive) tax hike on tobacco consumers at a time of massive budget surpluses. Likelihood of passage: Moderate (it will hard for legislators to explain a tax hike at a time of record budget surpluses).

HB 34, Rep. Joanne Ferrary (D). Expands and extends an already-generous solar panel tax credit that disproportionately benefits wealthy New Mexicans. Likelihood of passage: High (furthers “green” agenda and benefits well-connected, wealthy solar customers and companies).

HB 71, Rep. Matthew McQueen (D) and Jason C. Harper (R). Allows taxes on residential property to rise by up to 10% ANNUALLY (as opposed to 3% currently). Likelihood of passage: Moderate (Property taxes are notoriously unpopular and it is hard to see the Legislature passing a big tax hike in an election year, even with a GOP co-sponsor).

HB 75, Rep. Sponsor Patricia Roybal Caballero (D). Sets up a state-run bank in New Mexico. New Mexico already has a robust network of banks and credit unions, the last thing it needs is a government-run and taxpayer-financed bank. Likelihood of passage: Moderate this is a concept likely to be seen as too far beyond the pale even for many Democrats.

HB 78 and HB 132 Rep. Patricial Roybal Caballero (D) is on HB 78 while HB 132 is more likely to pass and sponsored by Rep. Susan K. Herrera, Speaker Brian Egolf, Reps. Joy Garratt (D), Phelps Anderson (I) and Daymon Ely (D). Both bills create artificial limits on interest rates charged by certain lenders in New Mexico that will limit credit availability to those with poor or no credit. Likelihood of passage: High (HB 132) as this concept has numerous groups supporting and high-interest loans are misunderstood and by legislators, the media, and the population at large.

HB 126, Reps. Tara L. Lujan (D) and Pamelya Herndon (D), Creates all manner of “diversity” requirements for state government employees, creates a “Chief Diversity Officer” as well as “diversity” and “inclusion” liaisons in State government, requires an annual report on whether the State is achieving its diversity and inclusion goals. Is New Mexico State government not “woke” enough? This legislation is for you. Likelihood of passage: Moderate.

HJR 2 / SJR2 Reps. Joanne J. Ferrary (D), Tara L. Lujan (D), Gail Chasey (D), Sens. Antoinette Sedillo Lopez, (D), Harold Pope (D). Purports to provide the people of New Mexico with vaguely-defined “environmental rights” includng the right to a “clean and healthy environment and the “right to protction of the environment.” The vague provisions contained in this amendment will simply result in more expensive lawsuits and unnecessary regulations. This is a Constitutional amendment and extremely vaguely worded which might scare away supporters.  Likelihood of passage: Moderate.

SB 8, Sens. Peter Wirth (D),   Katy M. Duhigg (D), Harold Pope (D) Carrie Hamblen (D), and  Rep. Javier Martínez (D) would “reform” voting in New Mexico by allowing 16 and 17 year olds to vote, creating a permanent absentee voter list, and permitting people without an official state ID to register to vote online by using their full Social Security number. Likelihood of passage: High

SB 21, Sen. Bill Tallman (D), Provides a tax subsidy for electric vehicles which tend to be driven by wealthy New Mexicans and is thus “regressive.” If there is one policy area where New Mexico’s Legislature loves to pour subsidies it would be for supposed “green” initiatives. Likelihood of passage: High

SB 99, Sen. Leo Jaramillo (D), Creates a new “State Transit Fund” to further funnel money from state taxpayers to failed transit projects. This is a new idea this session, but with so much money floating around there is always reason to be concerned about new wasteful spending. Likelihood of passage: Moderate

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What RGF’s president told the APS School board about new COVID restrictions

As has been widely reported in the media, Albuquerque Public Schools on Wednesday, introduced a whole host of restrictions on various activities at their schools.

Here’s a list of the new rules:

  • Wearing properly fitted masks outdoors as well as indoors
  • Students facing one way in classrooms and the cafeteria
  • Keeping students in cohorts
  • No spectators at school events, including athletics, through Feb. 2
  • Prohibiting large group gatherings, including assemblies
  • Staggering transition times and recesses
  • Closing drinking fountains (though students can still fill water bottles)
  • Restricting locker use.

Needless to say, not only is the RGF not a fan of several of these measures (masking outdoors?) but at the VERY least we believe that the new APS Board should be making these policies, NOT the superintendent  or any unelected bureaucrat.

So, here are RGF president’s Paul Gessing’s comments:

I was very happy to see the changes made to the board in the last election and I hope you will act quickly to wrest control over the District away from the bureaucrats.

 

I am the parent of three children who, up until the end of the abbreviated 2019-2020 school year, attended Chaparral Elementary on Albuquerque’s west side. We pulled our children out of APS for the 2020-2021 “virtual” school year and home schooled them because we knew that they would receive a vastly inferior education. Numerous studies have proven us correct.

 

Now our three kids go to a charter school OR Catholic school because APS has been completely inept in managing COVID and balancing the learning and socialization needs of children with a virus that has minimal impacts on children and has for the past two years.

 

The new COVID protocols at APS, adopted (so far as I can tell) without a vote of the Board, are unfair, unnecessary, and unscientific. I urge the board to take a public vote to overturn them and I urge ALL board members to vote to do so. Furthermore, in addition to overturning the new, unnecessary protocols, I urge the NEW APS board to eliminate the unnecessary mask mandate on children in the classroom.