How will the next New Mexico governor improve education?

by Aldo Jurado / NM News Port 

Education is a hot topic in the upcoming New Mexico governor’s race. The state ranked 50th nationally in measuring how well we educate our K-through-12 students. 

And polls reflect that concern, too.  A survey taken by the Albuquerque Journal in August asked voters to list their most pressing concerns; education came out as the 5th most cited topic. And when asked to rate the seriousness of education quality in New Mexico, 61% of likely voters rated it a “very serious” issue. 

It’s no surprise then that the gubernatorial candidates – incumbent Democrat Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham and her Republican challenger Mark Ronchetti – are vying for voter support on the issue what’s best for New Mexico’s educators and students. 

Covid Restrictions Hurt Students 

Political newcomer Mark Ronchetti, the former TV weatherman, is attacking the governor for closing schools during the pandemic. 

“Continue to invest in kids so they can finally catch up,” is what Ronchetti said he’d do, speaking during a recent TV debate. 

Ronchetti points to the learning gap that educators say resulted from the prolonged move to online learning. 

“To invest in catching our kids up, we should have had summer learning programs this past summer all across the state,” Ronchetti said.

“Well, my opponent wants to pretend that there was not a deadly global pandemic” Lujan Grisham shot back during the debate. 

 “We led the country in vaccines,” Lujan Grisham added. “Today our sovereign nations are the highest vaccinated populations as a collective – in the world.”  

“Let’s not pretend that this was easy,” she said.

Teacher salaries

“We’ve invested billions of dollars into the public school classrooms and the pay raises for teachers,” Lujan Grisham boasted during her opening debate remarks. 

The governor said teachers got a seven percent pay increase in the four years of her adminstration. She also stated on her website that there was a 25% increase in the number of teachers coming into the profession. 

Ronchetti doesn’t specifically mention teacher pay hikes, but his education plan calls for making sure education dollars make their way into classrooms, not bureaucracy. He also calls for hiring more teachers. He would also raise the pay for high-performing principals in the state and make them six-figure jobs. 

Ronchetti’s education promises

The Republican candidate presented an 8-step plan on how to get New Mexico education in a high-ranking spot. 

In addition to making up for lost time during the pandemic, and channeling state funds into the classroom, Rochetti would also support charter schooling as a priority. And, taking a page from other Republican campaign playbooks, he would give parents more say in what the schools are teaching students. 

Ronchetti also says his education plan would bring retired police and military into the schools to be seen as a disciplinary staff in the schools to have them deter crime. 

Grisham’s education promises

The governor plans to give a big boost to multicultural and bilingual education, while working with sovereign nations, tribes, and pueblos by helping them invest in education. 

She also promises to continue working on making pre-k more affordable to families in New Mexico, especially those struggling economically.

She would also continue to support the plan she proposed during her previous four years by making college free to high school seniors and to adults returning to school, by providing free tuition and scholarships at state colleges and universities.

Constitutional amendment for education funding

New Mexico voters in November will have another way to affect education in the state. Besides the candidates they pick, they can decide on a proposed constitutional amendment that would allocate more money from the land grant permanent fund to support early childhood learning, teacher compensation, and k-12 education programs.

During a September debate, Lujan Grisham said she absolutely supported the measure. Ronchetti said he doubted the funds would be used wisely.

According to the polls, around 69% of New Mexicans support the amendment.

Election day is November 8th. Here is a link to find the voting center nearest you.