The 2023 New Mexico Legislature enacted House Bill 130 which was signed into law by Governor Lujan Grisham. The law requires public schools in New Mexico to increase instructional time from 990 hours to 1,140 hours. Schools in session for five-day work weeks are required to have 180 instructional days, while schools in session for four-day work weeks are required to have 155 instructional days.
There are rural school districts in New Mexico that have adopted a four-day work week. The PED’s proposed changes would require all schools to adopt five-day weeks with 180 instructional days a year. State Education Secretary Arsenio has said the proposed changes are part of a multi-pronged approach to help students succeed.
EDUCATION SECRETARY ARSENIO ROMERO CONFRONTED
On December 15, State Public Education Secretary Arsenio Romero gave as presentation on the Public Education Department’s multi-billion-dollar budget before the LESC. The postscript to this blog article reports on the proposed budget changes and legislation that will be considered by the 2024 legislature.
After Education Secretary Romero gave his presentation, many of the committee members took the opportunity to challenge him about the controversial rule that will require public schools to spend at least 180 days in school outside of teachers’ professional development or other work time. The rule also restricts school districts that have implemented four-day school weeks, requiring all public schools to spend more than 50% of their time on five-day school week schedules.
The Public Education Department reported that it has received well over 800 hundred written public comments on the rule change. Many of those public commenters were extremely critical the rule. During the December 15 LESC meeting, lawmakers had little to nothing good to say about the proposal. LFC Chairman Sen. George Muñoz, D-Gallup, told Romero this:
“You’re making a mistake right now. … House Bill 130 … was all vetted through the Legislature … a long-term approach on how to make that change, and we get a report and you guys want to change it by rule. It’s not gonna work.”
The proposed rule comes after lawmakers passed House Bill 130, increasing the amount of instructional time students must spend in school to 1,140 hours while allowing some educator professional work time during instructional hours. Previously, first through sixth graders were required to go to school for at least 990 hours per year, and secondary students for 1,080 hours per year.
The Public Education Department (PED) has argued that many school districts and charter schools actually lost time with students, and proposed the 180-day rule as a way of getting it back. Romero told the LEFS committee members this:
“There are many other things that play into why schools can either be successful or not. But in all of my experiences, having more time with teachers has always been a positive thing. … The 180 rule is not to pick on four-day districts. It is to increase instructional time for students and teachers across New Mexico.”
There are many rural school districts that have implement four-day school week schedules to accommodate students’ and teachers’ long commutes to school. State Representative Gail Armstrong, R-Magdalena, recounted a similar experience in her elementary school years and worried the rule would strip such districts of local control to determine what works best for them.
Representative Joy Garratt, D-Albuquerque, one of HB 130’s sponsors, pointed out the legislation represented a year’s worth of feedback from people across the state and questioned the effort to quickly change how class-time requirements work. Garratt said this:
“It wasn’t just something that came out of the head of Zeus. … And so I was appalled when, after only four months of implementation … Suddenly, a rule is being proposed without any discussion ahead of time. I’m deeply troubled by that.”
Citing the flood of public comments, the department has received on the proposed rule, Romero said he welcomed feedback and that it will inform the department’s decisions on how to move forward.
“We’ve got a lot of it, and I really love that we have a lot of it coming from all over the state of New Mexico. … I am looking forward to looking at every single piece of feedback as we move forward.”
13 LESC MEMBERS OPPOSE 180 INSTRUCTIONAL DAYS
Soon after the December 15 Legislative Education Study Committee meeting 13 of its members signed a letter to PED in opposition to the rule change stating the mandate goes against the purpose of House Bill 130 increasing instructional hours. The 13 legislators wrote:
“The mandate of 180 instructional days for all school districts and charter schools does not align with the Legislature’s clear intention to allow local flexibility, while still requiring 1,140 instructional hours with no requirement for a specific number of days.”
The letter added that the requirement of at least half of school weeks needing to be five days “effectively eliminates” the four-day school week due to practicality.
PUBLIC HEARING HELD ON RULE
On December 20, the Public Education Department held a public hearing on the 180 day rule to take public comments before making a final decision on approving the rule. If approved, its final version will be published in January.
Many educators, parents and administrators from rural communities hoping to keep their modified schedules testified at the December 20 public input hearing. Many expressed concerns that teachers would leave if the rule was adopted. Several speakers called the rule a “one size fits all” approach to educational schedules.
One speaker argued that the shorter week attracts teachers to the rural community. Switching to a five-day week would increase operational costs and potentially push away teachers lured by a flexible schedule. The 2023 New Mexico Educator Vacancy Report, produced by New Mexico State University, found 751 teacher vacancies and an overall educator vacancy of 1,471. The number of teacher vacancies was up about 9% from last year.
It will be rural communities such as ranching and farming communities that will be affected the most by the 180-day rule. Many include districts with four-day school week. The Springer School District is a good example of a District that will be affected. Springer has had a four-day school week in place since 1983 and it no doubt is threatened by a PED proposal mandating a 180-day school schedule across the state.
The proposal has been made despite the Legislature’s passage earlier this year of a bill that increased instructional time from 1,080 hours to 1,140. PED has said the measure hasn’t successfully increased class time in all schools. A department spokesperson said 1 in 3 districts didn’t increase instructional time and that in fact, they decreased educational time. PED spokesperson Nate Williams said in a statement that improving student outcomes was the impetus for the proposal and said this:
“Additional time with teachers can only be a good thing … This is an attempt to equalize instructional time across the state so that New Mexico students have every chance to succeed.”
40% STUDENT CHRONIC ABSENTEE RATE
A November 17, 2023 a report prepared by the Legislative Education Study Committee found that nearly 40% of students were chronically absent from school in New Mexico during the 2022-23 school year. The number is slightly less than the previous year, but it’s still a major concern for educators and lawmakers who say children can’t learn if they aren’t in class. According to the report nearly 60.8% of students who are experiencing housing insecurity are also chronically absent.
The relevant portion of the LESC report states in part as follows:
Chronic absenteeism is defined in New Mexico state law as missing 10% or more of classes or school days for any reason, whether excused or unexcused. Missing 10% of school equates to missing two school days every month, or 18 days (more than 3 full weeks) over a 180 day period.
Statewide chronic Absenteeism Rates data from the Public Education Department shows an alarming nearly 40% chronic absenteeism rate for the 2022-2023 school year. What this means is that 134,259 students in New Mexico are chronically absent at an average school calendar of 180 days, this means students are missing more than 3 weeks of school. …
Chronic absence rates for Fiscal Year 2023 are highest for NATIVE AMERICAN students at 48.4%, followed by NATIVE HAWAIIAN OR PACIFIC ISLANDER students at 45.7%, BLACK OR AFRICAN AMERICAN students at 40.8%, HISPANIC Students at 40.7%, CAUCASIAN students at 38% and ASIAN STUDENTS at 23.37%.
Factors such as housing status, English learner status, family income, and whether a student has disabilities are frequently associated with chronic absences [and] … chronic absence rates are often highest among such students. [For example] 60.8% of students experiencing housing insecurity in New Mexico where chronically absent during the 2022-2023 school year. For all of the student groups (students experiencing housing insecurity, students with disabilities, English learners, and economically disadvantaged students) chronic absentee rates were above the state average of 39.2% for the 2022-2023 school year.”
During the December 16 meeting, Senator and LESC Committee Co-chair William Soules said there are many factors for the absentee numbers and said most of those factors are out of the reach of any school district. Soules said this:
“It tends to be problems with housing. It tends to be problems with transportation. It tends to be problems with drug addiction and mental health, all things that are not education. … So much of the problem is a non-education problem yet we’ve tried to approach it as if it’s an education problem and punish the kids who are chronically absent when it’s not their fault, it’s our fault.”
The Public Education Department said early invention is the key and needs to start as early as kindergarten to deal with absenteeism. The PED told lawmakers there needs to be continued support for statewide attendance initiatives, funding for schools to implement the Attendance for Success Act and behavioral health initiatives and restorative methods to eliminate exclusionary practices, and legislation to focus on attendance interventions and reduce administrative burdens.
2023 KIDS COUNT DATA BOOK, STATE TRENDS IN CHILD WELL BEING
The 2023 Kids Count Data Book substantiates and identifies the problems that need to be overcome that are the major continuing factors that contribute to the 40% absentee rates. On June 14, 2023, the New Mexico Voices for Children released the “2023 Kids Count Data Book, State Trends In Child Well Being.” The annual “Kids Count” Data Book is prepared by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. The Casey foundation is a nonprofit based in Maryland focusing on improving the well-being and future of American children and their families. It assesses how New Mexico children are faring in a number of areas including economic well-being, education, health, and family and community. The “Kids Count Data Book” this year is a 50 page document with an extensive number of tables, graphs charts and statistics.
The link to the 2023 Kids Count Data Book is here:
New Mexico ranked 49th in ECONOMIC WELL-BEING RANKING, with 24% (111,000) of New Mexico children living in poverty, 35% (165,000) of New Mexico Children whose parents lack secure employment, 26% (125,000) of New Mexico children living in households with a high housing cost burden, and 12% (14,000) of teens not in school and not working.
New Mexico ranked 50th in education, with 59% (30,000) (years 2017 to 2021) young children ages 3 to 4 not in school, 4th graders not proficient in reading (year 2022) grew from 76% to 79%, 87% of eighth graders not proficient in math (year 2022) and 23% of high school students not graduating on time (years 2019 to 2020). (Page 35) Fourth graders not proficient at reading
New Mexico 44th in health rankings , above Alabama (45), Wyoming (46) South Carolina (47) Texas (48) Louisiana (49), Mississippi (50). New Mexico had 9.4% (2,009) low birth rate babies in 2021, 6% (32,000) children without health insurance in 2021, 217 child and teen deaths per 100,000 in 2021 ranking the state 43, and with the state ranking 36 in children and teens (ages 10 to 17) who were overweight or obese. (Page 36)
New Mexico ranked 48th in family and community (above Louisiana (49) and Mississippi (50)) with 44% (196,000) children living with single parent families, 12% (59,000) of children living in families where the household head lacks a high school diploma in the years 2017 to 2021, and the state having a 19% teen birth rate per 1,000 births, 1,324 births in 2021. (Page 37)
NATIONAL ASSESSMENT OF EDUCATIONAL PROGRESS PROFIENCY SCORES
On October 24, 2022, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) released its 2022 Proficiency Test Scores in Math and Reading. Results for all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and 26 participating districts were released. Students’ academic achievement during the COVID-19 pandemic was compared to pre-pandemic performance on the 2019 NAEP mathematics assessment as well as to previous mathematics assessments dating back to 1990. No state improved in 4th or 8th grade math, and only a few states improved in reading. Those that did, did so by a maximum of two points
NAEP NEW MEXICO PROFIENCY TEST SCORES
According to education officials, the NAEP tests were conducted in 29% of elementary schools and 42% of middle schools. The highest possible score on the NAEP test is 500.
In 4th and 8th grade reading and math, New Mexico students came in shy of dead last in proficiency out of the over-50 states and jurisdictions where the testing was administered. According to the report, New Mexico 4th and 8th graders lost ground in both math and reading. This was the case across the country. National and New Mexico education officials attributed the declines in large part due to the corona virus pandemic and when there was widespread school closings and remote learning was instituted.
According to the 2022 NAEP report, New Mexico’s 4th graders fell upwards of 14 points behind national public school student averages overall. It was the same for 8th graders in math, but 8th graders lagged about 11 points behind in reading.
In math, New Mexico 4th and 8th graders dropped about 10 points from state scores in 2019. They lost less ground in reading, where fourth graders dropped about five points and eighth graders dropped four.
That came out to 21% reading proficiency and 19% math proficiency rates of and among 4th graders which was 3% and 10% points lower than in 2019.
A little more than 18% of eighth graders were proficient in reading and about 13% were proficient in math – a drop of five and eight percentage points, respectively.
Students at Albuquerque Public Schools, the largest district in the state, mostly held steady in their proficiency levels. While there were drops in both subjects for eighth graders, the NCES found they were “not significantly different” from 2019 scores.
However, fourth grade math proficiency, at about 24%, was around six percentage points lower than it was in 2019.
Overall APS student scores also dropped across the board from their pre-pandemic levels, though not as much as statewide numbers did. The largest declines came in math, where both fourth and eighth graders lost roughly seven points each.
APS students suffered from the pandemic, Superintendent Scott Elder said. Still, he noted that Albuquerque was in a “much better place” than a lot of other places in New Mexico when it comes to accessibility to things like the internet. And while APS students were still behind other large cities in both grades and subject areas, those gaps didn’t widen as some thought they would, he pointed out.
Elder told the Albuquerque Journal this:
“You don’t look at the scores and think ‘OK, great. … We lost a little bit, but we didn’t lose as much as I think people were afraid [we would. … We [did] see a significant decline in the math, but that’s similar to what we see nationally.”
COMMENTARY AND ANAYSIS
There is absolutely no doubt that the biggest crisis that our public school system is facing is its miserable ranking of 50th place in education. As found by the 2023 Kids Count Data book, New Mexico ranks 50th in education, with 59% (30,000) (years 2017 to 2021) young children ages 3 to 4 not in school, 4th graders not proficient in reading (year 2022) grew from 76% to 79%, 87% of eighth graders not proficient in math (year 2022) and 23% of high school students not graduating on time (years 2019 to 2020). (Page 35) Fourth graders not proficient at reading.
The blunt reality is that until the States Public Education Department gets a handle on and solves the 40% absentee rate, do not expect proficiency rates to improve at all. You can not teach a student if the student is no where to be found 40% of the time and a mandatory 180 hours lecturing to an empty class gets you nowhere. The states student absentee rates are growing even worse all the while the state spends more and more on education.
State Senator and LESC Committee Co-chair William Soules was absolutely correct when he said there are many factors for the absentee numbers and said most of those factors are out of the reach of any school district. Notwithstanding, the Public Education Department has come up with a “one size fits all” solution that essentially highlights the divide between the State’s rural and urban communities.
The rule eliminates all discretion and strips districts of local control to determine what works best for them. It highlights the major differences between rural and urban New Mexico communities. The 180 day teacher in school rule promulgated by the state’s Public Education Department deserves the grade of “F” and the department needs to reject it.
On December 14, State Education Secretary Arsenio Romero made a 50 minute presentation on the Public Education Department’s multi-billion-dollar budget to the New Mexico Legislative Education Study (LESC) Committee. The LESC announced several draft bills for consideration for the upcoming 2024 legislative session. Following is the proposed legislation for consideration by the 2024 New Mexico legislature:
The most talked about bill the LESC endorsed increases the minimum salaries of educational assistants and provide a 2½-fold minimum pay increase in general. Under legislation endorsed by the LESC, all public school employees are guaranteed a minimum wage of $6 per hour with no set minimum salary. The bill would bump that up to $15 per hour and establish a $30,000 minimum salary for all full-time employees.
Under the bill, educational assistants also would be again bumped from $25,000 minimum salaries to $30,000. During the 2023 legislative session, lawmakers approved a more than twofold minimum salary increase for educational assistants, from $12,000 to $25,000. Last year, educational assistants argued that even $25,000 was still low. Educational Assistant Cyndi Garcia said this last year:
“You could make more money working at McDonald’s flipping burgers than you could going into a classroom and doing this job. … But this is a great start … in recognizing how valuable we are.”
According to LESC staff estimates, the 6% committee recommendation to increase public school employees’ of all full-time personnel salaries is passed will cost the state another $24.7 million.
TRAINING OF SCHOOL BOARD MEMBERS
A second draft bill the LESC endorsed would require training for school board members that is not currently mandated by the state. Under the legislation, new school board members would have to complete at least 10 hours of mandatory training covering a range of topics, including budget responsibilities, laws affecting school boards and student achievement, during their first year on the job. Present school board members would have to complete five hours of mandatory training on the same or similar topics, under the draft.
During the LESC hearing, there were doubts raised that without more teeth, such a bill wouldn’t actually hold school board members accountable. LESC Vice-Chair Sen. William Soules, D-Las Cruces said this:
“Passing a law that doesn’t have an enforcement mechanism, I don’t think is going to have much effect on the recalcitrant members that aren’t going to meetings now.”
Ultimately, Senator Soules voted to endorse the bill, but said he likely would propose an amendment in committee to give the bill more teeth. The draft bill does call for the amount of time board members spend in training to be posted to New Mexico Vistas, the state’s education information system, but that’s the primary enforcement mechanism.
In all, the LESC endorsed 5 draft education bills to be considered during the 2024 upcoming session. The remaining three are:
The third bill would create a pilot program that distributes between $250 and $750 for each student in a district that successfully earns a credential in a specific industry that shows their competence in that field of work.
The fourth bill would lay the groundwork for preparation programs for aspiring school administrators like principals and assistant principals, as well as an institute to develop their skills. Under the draft bill, the minimum salaries of principals and assistant principals also be increased to the minimums of Level 3 teachers of at least $70,000. That is then multiplied by a factor that takes into account their additional responsibilities, based on whether they work in an elementary, middle or high school.
The fifth bill would tweak legislation passed during the last session, clarifying how school districts would be eligible for waivers from local dollars they would need to spend on brick-and-mortar projects the state also is investing in.