Proposals aim to give New Mexico families more choice over child’s education

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — There are a couple proposals at the Roundhouse that highlight the debate about how much control families should have over their child’s public education.

State Rep. Jim Townsend, R-Artesia, is pushing both proposals.

One proposal, House Joint Resolution 13, calls for breaking up the New Mexico Public Education Department and having voters elect board members who would make decisions. The board would have ten members who voters elect and five appointed members.

Supporters say this would give localities more of a voice. Townsend said the current structure, under governors of both parties, isn’t working.

"The system has failed. It’s time to do something new," Townsend said.

He has a strong message for any educators who would be opposed to losing power if families get more control.

"Fortifying yourself in a failing system tells me that you’re part of the problem, and you need to get out of the way," Townsend said.

However, the chair of the House Education Committee said this would be the wrong move. State Rep. Andrés Romero, D-Albuquerque, says right the NMPED is held accountable and local districts already have plenty of control.

"I think that’s something that the Legislature has worked on in terms of local control, giving school boards a lot of leeway in the sorts of programming that they implement within their districts and providing the resources for them to do so," Romero said.

A governor’s office spokesperson sent KOB 4 a statement about the idea of doing away with the NMPED and its secretary, noting how the department came to be in the early 2000s:

"With the bipartisan support of the New Mexico Legislature, parents voted to put experienced educators and experts – not politicians – in charge of public schools through the creation of the Public Education Department."

This proposal would be a constitutional amendment voters would have to approve.

There’s also another proposal, House Joint Resolution 11, that would allow families’ tax dollars to go to whichever school their child attends, including private schools, regardless of where they live.

Supporters said families feel trapped at their schools, but the criticism of this idea is it might cripple funding at certain schools.

"I think this is a way to undermine our public school system," Romero said.

Townsend said he thinks the competition would raise the bar.

The House Republican Caucus released a poll of 400 Albuquerque voters Friday, which they say shows the majority of people are on their side.

On whether the NMPED is doing a good job – 60% said no, including 48% of Democrats. On tax dollars following children to their school – 63% were in favor, including 45% of Democrats. Nearly everyone who responded agreed the state’s education system needs change of some kind right now.

Track these House Joint Resolutions during the legislative session: