At a town hall in Albuquerque on Wednesday, Dec. 18, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham presented her top education priorities for the 30-day legislative session that starts next month. She’s asking lawmakers to set aside $35 million to make college tuition-free for New Mexico residents starting in fall 2020, and for $300 million to start a trust fund for early childhood programs. Many attendees came looking for details on how the state is addressing serious disparities in public schools.
The first-term Democratic governor stayed late taking questions from an audience of a couple hundred people.
Attorney Gail Evans from the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty asked if Lujan Grisham’s administration would commit to a significant boost in funding for bilingual programming, special education services, better wifi and technology in tribal communities, and an increase in the "at-risk" factor that determines how much money schools get per student.
The governor didn’t answer directly, but she said all students will benefit from investments she wants to make in pre-K, child care, behavioral health and other services. Her message was that even with the current oil and gas boom, there’s just not enough money to go around.
“Not a single thing that anybody’s said tonight is invalid, about where we’re going and what we need," Lujan Grisham said. "How we get there, and how we’re accountable and responsible, and how it’s sustainable, for us, are just as important.”
Lujan Grisham was joined onstage by her three education cabinet secretaries. Former UNM-Taos CEO Kate O'Neill heads the Higher Education Department, and Lujan Grisham hired Elizabeth Groginsky last month to lead the new Department of Early Childhood Education and Care.
Public Education Department Secretary Ryan Stewart responded to a question about social studies standards by acknowledging that the standards and curricula don’t do enough to represent Native Americans, Hispanic people, and African Americans, “and that has to change," he said. "And the ways in which we engage our students in critical conversations about our collective humanity and all of the atrocities and challenges we have faced in our society have to be reflected in our standards.”
Public education makes up nearly half of the state’s $7 billion budget. PED is asking for a 5 percent increase this legislative session, which starts Jan. 21.
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