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Education Local Government Notable News Public Comments and Testimony Top Issues

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.

 

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Economy Education Local Government Notable News Top Issues

A good night for reform-minded leadership nationwide/in New Mexico

If you’d like to listen to Rio Grande Foundation president Paul Gessing discuss the 2021 election results (and numerous other issues later on), check out his recent interview with Jim Williams of KLYT 88.3FM on ABQ Connect. Paul is a regular guest on Jim’s show, but he has regular guests on a variety of local issues of interest.

In terms of local election results, it was obviously disappointing to see Mayor Keller who has done such a poor job managing public safety and the homelessness problem win so handily in Albuquerque. But, the taxpayer-financed United Stadium supported by Keller (and opposed by the Rio Grande Foundation) lost 2-1.

In terms of City Council, the West Side saw the ouster of two incumbents in favor of former Councilor Dan Lewis and newcomer Louis Sanchez.

Two other races are heading to a runoff with the requisite early voting and an “election day” of December 7. Those races include conservative leaning candidates Lori Robertson (District 7 in the mid-northeast heights) and Rene Grout (District 9 in the northeast/southeast heights).

APS school board also saw seats shift from union-backed candidates to more reform-minded candidates including Courtney Jackson, Crystal Tapia-Romero, and Danielle Gonzales .

Unfortunately the reform wave did not reach Las Cruces city council and the Foundation’s own Patrick Brenner lost in his bid for school board in Rio Rancho.

Nationally-speaking, Virginia’s governor’s race was won by Republican Glenn Youngkin in large part because of his pro-education reform, anti-CRT stances.

In New Jersey in what could have been an unprecedented upset, the Republican fell just-short.

Overall, it was a good night for conservatives and those that believe parents, not the unions and bureaucrats should control education.

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Education Notable News Open Government Top Issues

PED secretary needs to show us the data

The following opinion piece appeared in the Las Cruces Sun News on Sunday, October 24, 2021.

Kurt Steinhaus has been on the job for just a month or so, but he has already put forth policies and ideas regarding New Mexico’s education system that leave us scratching our heads.

We all want our children to do better in school so that they are prepared to be productive workers and informed citizens. That is not an easy task and it is made even more difficult by the pandemic and the government’s reaction to it.

The first question is why PED has chosen not to release standardized testing data that it has from March of 2020 prior to the pandemic. Yes, only 10% of students took the test, but there is still useful information to be gleaned from the 10% that took it. That’s especially true since there will be no data available at all for 2021. We know New Mexico students began the pandemic behind their peers in other states, but New Mexico families and our education leaders deserve to have at least some insights into where things stood right before the pandemic.

More bizarre are comments Steinhaus made in early October at a Legislative Education Study Committee. When asked what New Mexico would need to do to “make New Mexico teacher salaries competitive” he claimed the state would “have to double teacher salaries.”

That is quite simply false. According to the latest data from the National Education Association, New Mexico’s average teacher pay is $54,256 annually (ranked 32nd in the nation). The highest paid teachers on average are found in New York where they make $87,069. Doubling New Mexico teacher salaries would not “make them competitive.” It would make them by far the highest paid in the nation (at nearly $110,000) in a state that has much lower taxes and living costs than does New York and others with high salaries.

Setting aside whether increasing teacher pay is warranted or effective at increasing student performance, there is simply no data backing up the idea that New Mexico should double teacher pay. Perhaps Steinhaus is not familiar with what New Mexico teachers make or past efforts to recruit and offer enhanced pay to high performing teachers.

And then there are the state’s revised social studies standards which clearly were “in progress” during (prior Secretary) Ryan Stewart’s time at PED but were recently released under Steinhaus. Whether you can call the new, much more prescriptive standards “critical race theory” or not is open to question, but there are concerning elements to be found in the new standards.

Throughout the new curriculum there is a focus not simply on geography, human development and historical facts and events and their relevance for us today. If adopted, the curriculum will intently focus on differences, rather than the similarities among various racial and ethnic groups. Talk of inequity (unequal outcome for different groups) will replace equality under the law. The general trend in the new standards is away from presenting the facts and asking students to come to their own conclusions to instead hammering approved beliefs on everything from gun control and “destruction and occupation” of the Americas by the Spaniards into students.

There is currently a public comment period on these standards going on through Nov. 12. Please look at them and submit your own comments today.

Secretary Steinhaus does not have an easy job and we understand that. But, our schools need a focused, data-driven approach to improve student outcomes. If paying teachers more will improve outcomes, let’s see the data. And rather than teaching watered-down CRT, let’s focus on teaching basic historical events and not spinning them to make America look like a hive of inequality and injustice.

Paul J. 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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Economy Education Notable News Top Issues

OAK NM in ABQ Journal: Educate yourself and vote on school board, bond, mill levy

The following was written by OAK NM’s Edwin Aybar Lopez. It appeared in the Albuquerque Journal on October 10, 2021.

This fall, voters in the Albuquerque Public Schools service area have some important issues to consider when they vote. For starters, it has been well-documented that in each of the four seats up for election this fall, none of the incumbents will appear on the ballot. In other words, the APS school board is in for some significant changes, no matter what the results are.

What that change looks like will be up to the voters.

My organization, OAKNM, sent surveys to all candidates for school board in APS and numerous other larger school districts across the state to ask for candidates’ views on big issues facing school boards. In Albuquerque, these included everything from splitting APS into multiple districts to masking kids and the role of charter schools.

Whether candidates completed these and other surveys or not, there are two clear sets of candidates: those who support and receive support from the unions and those who don’t. Typically, union support has been the deciding factor in local school board races, but, with this election occurring at the same time as the Albuquerque mayoral and City Council elections – not to mention the United soccer stadium vote – everyone expects higher turnout than seen in the past.

As an education reformer, this makes me happy. Given everything our kids have gone through over the past 18 months, our education system, already ranked at the bottom, failed our children completely. Of course, we don’t know just how badly because the state’s standardized test for 2020 and 2021 was administered to only a fraction of the student population, or not at all. Estimates vary, but we’ve seen figures for lost time ranging from a few weeks to more than a year.

Do you believe the situation was handled well? Do you think it was appropriate for unions to play an outsized role in reopening, masking and even vaccination policies during the pandemic? Are you concerned that the Sheryl Williams Stapleton scandal is only the tip of the iceberg? If so, you need to vote in this election and get yourself educated on the issues facing the district.

In addition to the school board races, APS has quietly placed (a $200 million general obligation bond and) a property tax question on ballots. The question on the ballot asks for a tax levy of $3.838 per $1,000 of net taxable value on residential property and $4.344 on non-residential. The question(s are) with billions of stimulus money flowing into New Mexico schools, students fleeing APS in droves and the Legislature sitting on “more money than they know what to do with,” per the Senate Finance Committee chairman, why is APS asking for (more)?

Here in Albuquerque and across New Mexico, education reform is on the ballot. Voters need to get educated about the candidates and issues that will, at long last, pull our state out of last place. Get out to vote and take a friend or relative with you.

Opportunity for All Kids New Mexico, www.oaknm.org, is an organization dedicated to reforming New Mexico’s education system.

 

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Education Local Government Notable News Open Government Top Issues Videos

Talking APS property tax with KOAT Channel 7

As discussed in a recent blog post here there is an Albuquerque Public Schools property tax issue on voters’ ballots this November. As seen below the ballot language certainly seems to indicate a property tax increase, but in this story for which RGF talked to KOAT Channel 7, APS claims it is NOT a tax hike.

We looked extensively on the APS website and found nothing, nor does the full ballot text on our sample ballot (find yours here) have any clues.

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Education Notable News Public Comments and Testimony Top Issues

Comment on Critical Race Theory in MLG’s proposed social studies curriculum

Gov. Lujan Grisham’s Education Department just released its new social studies standards. You can find all 122 pages here. As described below the standards are rife with Critical Race Theory (CRT) themes and other questionable material that may not fit squarely within CRT (read more on what that means here).

Before getting into some of the specific problems with the proposed standards, PED is NOW accepting public comments and will do so until November 12, 2021 at 5 p.m. (MDT). There will be a public hearing  Friday, November 12 from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. (MDT) at Mabry Hall in Santa Fe.

All written rule feedback should be submitted to:

  • Emailrule.feedback@state.nm.us
  • Fax505-827-6520
  • Mail: Policy Division, Public Education Department, 300 Don Gaspar Ave., Santa Fe, NM 87501

Here is a rundown of SOME of the problems with the proposed standards:

  1. In Ethics, Cultural and Identity Studies there is a requirement that students assess how social policies and economic forces “offer privilege or systemic inequity in accessing social, political, and economic opportunity.” This is classic CRT theology.   6.29.11.23(A)(1)(d)
  2. Throughout the entire social studies curriculum for K-8 grades, there is a continue focus on the differences, rather than the similarities, among various groups of people.  This, too, is classic CRT as the purpose is to divide people among various minority groups, which can quickly lead to victimhood.
  3. There are also numerous example where a teacher can impose the notion of “justice and fairness,”  unequal power relations, “past and current injustices”, although those terms are open to many interpretations.  These phrases are also classic CRT as it perpetrates the sense of inequity in our society along racial lines.  6.29.11.11(E)(2) and 6.29.11.15(E)(7) and 6.29.11.15(E)(12)
  4. Within High School U.S. History, a requirement that students “evaluate what an efficient, equitable, and just economic system would look like in the U.S.”  This is again classic CRT as it imposes the belief on students that our current capitalistic system must be eliminated in order to eliminate racism.   6.29.11.21(A)(1)(i)
  5. Within High School U.S. History, students are required to create an action plan for a more just and equitable America for diverse groups of people including Native Americans and African Americans.  This is another CRT theology component in that America is automatically unjust and inequitable to various minority groups.  6.29.11.21(A)(3)(kk)
  6. Within High School U.S. History, students are required to examine the past, present, and future of gun violence in the U.S.  Of course, there are no standards provided to discuss the constitutional rights of gun owners, or that individuals, not an inanimate object, are responsible for gun violence in America or how gangs, drug cartels, etc. have resulted in greater gun violence in our society. No positives regarding gun usage by women or minority groups are put forth.    6.29.11.21(A)(1)(gg)
  7. In the 5th Grade, students are  required to describe how inequity in the U.S. laid the foundation for conflict that continues today.  Another classic example of CRT as it stresses racial disparity in terms of inequality.  6.29.11.13(A)(3)(b)
  8. Within High school U.S. History, students must examine the short-and long-term effects of CIA involvement in Latin America. How about pairing this with a discussion of Communism and the negative impact it has had in Cuba and other Latin American nations.    6.29.11.21(A)(1)(x)
  9. In the 7thGrade, students must compare the patterns of exploration, destruction and occupation of the Americas by the Spaniards.   6.29.11.15(D)(3)(g)
  10. Within High School U.S. History, students must explore the movement against police brutality.   6.29.11.21(A)(3)(mm)

RGF will be formulating its own comments in a subsequent post, but you are encouraged to submit your own and highlight this.

Categories
Education Legislature Notable News Top Issues

Las Cruces Sun-News piece: Back to school brings big challenges in New Mexico

 

 

School has begun for most New Mexico students. While every school year is different, this year is certainly more different than most. For starters, students are returning to “semi-normal” classrooms after 1.5 years of remote learning and relative chaos. Unfortunately, as of this writing schools in Rio Rancho, Carlsbad, Los Lunas, and Roswell have “temporarily” had to again go “virtual.”

Lost classroom time has had a big impact on academic outcomes for New Mexico students. According to the Legislative Finance Committee, the Legislature’s “in-house” think tank, K-12 students in New Mexico have fallen behind anywhere from six months to two years. Furthermore, lost classroom time will widen existing learning gaps, particularly for low-income families.

Many New Mexicans likely assume that students across the nation, not just in New Mexico, spent most of the 2020-2021 school year doing remote learning, that is not the case. According to the Burbio website which tracks various COVID-related policies, Utah students spent more than 80% of the year in their classrooms last year and Colorado students were in their classrooms nearly 65% of the time. New Mexico students were in their classrooms only about 33% of the time. According to Burbio, New Mexico students lost more classroom time than students in all but five other states last year.

Even prior to COVID, we knew that New Mexico students perform worse than students in virtually any other state. Catching up from both the preexisting learning gap and the one created last year is going to be a serious challenge. Unfortunately, New Mexico’s Public Education Department (PED) is in chaos. After just 2.5 years in office, Gov. Lujan Grisham is now on her 4th Education Secretary with the recent departure of Ryan Stewart.

At a July LFC meeting several legislators and tribal leaders raised some difficult questions about the ability of the State’s education system as it currently exists to improve student outcomes.

These were not Republicans who have long been frustrated by the growing K-12 budgets absent improved results. Rather, Democrat Rep. Derrick Lente (Sandia Pueblo) expressed concern for Native American students saying they, “have been left to rot because of where they come from” for many years. How much longer do our children have to fail for us to get this right?” Lente continued.

Another powerful, “progressive” Democrat (just named to the 2nd-highest position in the House) Rep. Javier Martinez, D-Albuquerque said he had, “started to question whether more money is actually needed beyond what we’ve invested. I think we’re losing steam,” Martinez said, “I’d hate to be back here in 20 years talking about how nothing has changed.”

To say that we at the Rio Grande Foundation concur with these legislators’ concerns would be an understatement. We have long held that robust reforms including both increased choice and accountability are critical to improving New Mexico’s educational performance.

Of course, talking about a problem and taking action to solve it are two very different things. In this year’s 60-day legislative session several “school choice” bills were introduced only to be killed immediately.

Will the upcoming 2022 session be different? That is ultimately up to voters. Across the nation school choice is spreading rapidly in states where education policy is not controlled by unions. Unfortunately, New Mexico’s Legislature is not one of those states. School board elections are coming this fall. If you are concerned about education policy in New Mexico, educate yourself on school board candidates and vote this November. The Rio Grande Foundation’s sister organization Opportunities for All Kids New Mexico www.oaknm.org is currently surveying school board candidates and publishing the results online.

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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Audio Economy Education Energy and Environment Notable News Top Issues

Paul Gessing discusses the latest news and challenges facing our State on New Mexico Rising Podcast

Paul had a fun conversation with the guys at the New Mexico Rising podcast. You can find the conversation below on Youtube as well as audio versions of this and other podcast episodes here.

Categories
Education Notable News Top Issues

KRQE covers mask protests

Over a very busy weekend the head of the Rio Grande Foundation joined New Mexicans (in Albuquerque) protesting against masking kids in school this fall. At its peak there were approximately 150 people in attendance. Especially notable were the loud horn honks from the numerous cement truck drivers as they passed. Blue collar workers certainly seem to oppose masking kids in school.

RGF’s Paul Gessing briefly spoke to the reporter for the story at the end below:

The Conservative New Mexican also had an excellent writeup of the Albuquerque event.

 

Categories
Education Notable News Open Government Top Issues Videos

RGF discusses “Monuments to Me” Sheryl Williams Stapleton edition on KOB TV

Rep. Sheryl Williams Stapleton is in hot water and resigned over serious allegations of money laundering. Over a decade ago the Rio Grande Foundation questioned the practice of naming public facilities after elected officials. KOB TV interviewed RGF president Paul Gessing about the issue. Watch the full story here: