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Lack of competition in Public Education Commission races may point to larger issues

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DON HARDER VIA FLICKR
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Creative Commons

 New Mexico has ranked 50th nationally in education and recent standardized test score rankings showed fourth and eighth grade students came in last nationally for proficiency in both reading and math. This election, voters will see candidates for the Public Education Commission on their ballots. And while none of the races are contested, that may point to tension between the commission and New Mexico Public Education Department.

The Public Education Commission consists of 10 elected officials who authorize all state-chartered charter schools and give recommendations to PED concerning approving, reviewing, and denying or renewing school charters. It also monitors the academic, operational, and financial systems of each school. This year, districts 2,3,5,6, and 7 will be on the ballot with no competitive races.

Meredith Machen co-chair of the Education Committee for the New Mexico League of Women Voters said, New Mexico is one of the only states in the nation that uses the commission as an advisory board because state statute limits its capacity.

"The Public Education Commission is not really doing much for New Mexico overall, in terms of education policy" said Machen.

Machen explained there’s no dissemination of best practices for charter schools and they essentially work in isolation, and this, coupled with the fact that the commission has very little funding for itself, means the state is not meeting standards of high-quality education for all children.

"If we’re going to meet the benchmarks in the Yazzie v. Martinez court orders. I think we need to think in terms of systems. And I think the Public Education Commission could be very very helpful," Machen said.

There are a total of 104 charter schools in New Mexico and of those 50 under the commission's purview. But Machen said that because of its limited advisory role, the quality of charter schools is all over the map. She suggested using the commission more effectively could help shift New Mexico from its last-place ranking.

Taylor is a reporter with our Poverty and Public Health project. She is a lover of books and a proud dog mom. She's been published in Albuquerque The Magazine several times and enjoys writing about politics and travel.