School & District Management

Group Urging Shake-up in New Mexico

By Darcia Harris Bowman — September 13, 2000 2 min read

A Sante Fe group is making waves with its recommendations to improve education in New Mexico by overhauling the public school system.

In a report released this month, members of the bipartisan organization Think New Mexico encourage state leaders to shift the power to hire teachers and other staff members, set curriculum, and oversee budgets from central district offices to individual schools.

The group also urges the state to allow more public schools to convert to independent charter schools, pass laws that allow parents and students to choose schools within and outside district boundaries, and create competition by tying education dollars to students instead of districts.

And starting at the system’s very top, the report’s authors call for letting citizens vote on abolishing the state board of education and making the state schools superintendent a member of the governor’s appointed Cabinet.

Also notable is what Think New Mexico does not endorse: vouchers.

“What we’re proposing is a third way between vouchers and the status quo,” said Fred Nathan, the group’s founder and executive director.

Vouchers for private school tuition are not workable in New Mexico for a number of reasons, according to Mr. Nathan’s think tank, partly because of legal obstacles posed by the state constitution. Among the more practical concerns, the group says, is that the state’s private and religious schools, which enrolled just over 33,000 students last year, simply can’t accommodate plans like Gov. Gary E. Johnson’s proposal to give a $3,500 voucher to any public school student who wants one.

More Choices

Think New Mexico does support expanded choice among public schools as a way to turn around low student test scores, failing schools, and high dropout rates.

New Mexico has nine charter schools, which are publicly funded schools that are free from many state and local regulations. But state law allows only five regular public schools each year to convert to charter status.

Lifting that cap and allowing students to cross district lines to attend schools of their choice—and sending state per-pupil funding with them—will force all schools to compete and ultimately improve, the group argues.

Think New Mexico says decentralizing decisionmaking authority in the public system is another way to strengthen local control and accountability. Larger districts tend to impose one-size-fits-all policies and neglect some of their schools, the group says, while smaller districts with less per-pupil funding struggle to cover their overhead.

The group proposes splitting the functions performed by central administrations, putting principals and local school advisory boards in charge of education policy, and leaving the financial aspects of running schools to a statewide purchasing consortium.

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