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Pursuing a Visionary World-Class Public Education System

Our vision for the future of public education in New Mexico extends beyond our classrooms, schoolyards and places of learning; it permeates our communities. This vision, based on the collective wisdom of educators, not only encourages students to become creators and innovators, but also is pragmatic in its approach. It acknowledges shared responsibility and the fact that our state’s social and economic challenges are inextricably linked with our desire to create a robust public education system that serves the needs of all students, from early education through higher education.

Two years ago, we wrote the preceding paragraph to frame a set of education policy recommendations addressed to New Mexico’s lawmakers. Since then, hundreds of thousands have died from COVID-19 in this country, and millions have lost their jobs. And the impact of COVID-19 and the resulting economic crisis has been worse for people of color. Black, Indigenous and Hispanic Americans all have COVID-19 death rates that are triple or more that of white Americans.1 And 60 percent of Black, 55 percent of Native American and 72 percent of Hispanic households report facing serious financial hardship during the pandemic, compared with 46 percent for the general population.

Today, we are recommitting to our vision as we struggle with the triple interrelated crises of COVID-19, racial and ethnic injustice, and a failing economy. We call on lawmakers to address the immediate needs created by these crises, but we also urge them to use this time to reimagine what may be possible for education and for our community on the other side of these crises.

Quality public education is not achieved by lawmakers pursuing silver-bullet or politically expedient solutions. Real advances in public education are made when policymakers engage in ongoing dialogue with all stakeholders, recognizing that our understanding of what makes for a quality system of public education evolves over time.

Bearing that in mind, if you have been a regular reader of this publication, now in its fifth iteration, you will see several new additions to our policy goals, some of which are the result of our own evolution in thinking about the education and services we provide to our communities. You will also see that some of the policy recommendations we outlined in previous editions were adopted since we last published this guide, and we outline some recommendations for lawmakers on how they may support these nascent programs and pilots.

For those legislative recommendations that seem recycled or repeated, this should serve as an important reminder of the immense amount of work we have left to do. Some of these recommendations have taken on new urgency in the midst of a public health crisis. And some of these policy recommendations, while previously adopted, require renewed action to ensure ongoing funding.

Our vision as a union of professional educators
is rooted in our shared experiences and wisdom. Informed by the communities we live in and
the students we serve, our policy goals seek to improve the educational outcomes of students and transform our profession. When enacted, bold policy, informed by educational experts, can transform lives.

Students continue to be our focus, and will remain our focus during our advocacy inside the Roundhouse and throughout our shared communities. But we also know that educators’ working conditions are students’ learning conditions. We produce better outcomes for students and families by establishing and maintaining a supportive and rewarding work environment for educators.

The Martinez/Yazzie v. State of New Mexico lawsuit reminds us that we must confront the state’s failure to provide a sufficient and culturally responsive system of education for all New Mexican students. While we made important progress during the last legislative session when lawmakers approved significant new funding targeted to address historic underinvestment in our educational system, there is much work left to be done to repair the systemic issues of racism and marginalization of our Native American, Hispanic, Black, English language learner and special needs communities. We must rededicate ourselves to the pursuit of equity for all communities and at all levels.

COVID-19 has laid bare the inequities in school funding, along with the long-term neglect of our school facilities, our state’s dismal infrastructure and our underinvestment in early education and career and technical education. While we include recommendations to address obvious and immediate needs arising out of the pandemic, we call on lawmakers to use this opportunity to reimagine public education. 

We must seize this opportunity to achieve a more equitable, student-focused education system that helps each child to succeed and achieve.

We hope lawmakers will take notice of the recent progress we’ve made and build upon successful initiatives like the expansion of community schools, continuation of the highly successful Grow Your Own Teachers Act and increased investments into beginning teacher mentorship and residency programs designed to prepare new teachers well, all parts of a focus on attracting and retaining the teachers our students deserve. Each of these are examples of foundational pieces of policy that are providing a solid framework for continued improvement in New Mexico.

The demands of maintaining schooling during a pandemic have placed stress on our profession and our students, but we’ve met these challenges head-on. In transitioning to varying degrees of remote and hybrid learning throughout the public health crisis, we rediscovered and reacknowledged our resiliency as a profession. Our work is not done, but with such rapid and drastic changes in conditions, we have been freed to return to innovation and imagination.

As you consider the following policy considerations, view them through that same lens of innovation and imagination. Policies we enact in a partnership as lawmakers and stakeholders must meet the intersectional demands of our educational system, but we firmly believe that through collaboration, conversation and trust, we can produce outcomes that meet the needs of not only New Mexico’s public school students, but our society as well.

Our education system is meant to serve the collective good and create the kind of society we want to live in, and our students deserve. We must attract and retain professional educators and support them to create learning environments focused on inquiry, equity, discovery and creativity. As our society’s needs evolve, our systems of public education must grow and evolve to ensure our students are competitive and best prepared for a successful future, whatever pathway they may choose.

These policy recommendations have been developed with these outcomes in mind and are informed by the landmark 2016 National Conference of State Legislatures’ report No Time to Lose: How to Build a World-Class Education System State by State, and yet many of our suggestions are uniquely New Mexican. They include recommendations for our early childhood education system, our licensed and classified K-12 workers and our higher education system. Combined with the intersectional need for a fair tax revenue system, respect for labor rights and a strong commitment to anti-racism and social justice, New Mexico can and will deliver the high-quality, future-focused education our students deserve.

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