Senator John Sapien Op-Ed: End Privatization at the Expense of New Mexico’s Education

In March, 2013, the Legislature adopted an amendment to allow a fair bidding process for high school equivalency tests to be administered throughout the state. Although it passed both chambers unanimously, Governor Martinez later pocket vetoed it. Coincidently, on that very same day, in fact, the Public Education Department (PED) signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), which requires that PED will exclusively contract with Pearson PLC to administer GED tests.

In a July Legislative Education Study Committee (LESC) meeting,  PED staff testified that the  price for the equivalency test (GED) was increasing from $35 to $120.  This price is paid by the taker of the equivalency test, i.e. New Mexico citizens.   In the same hearing the committee heard additional testimony that there were at least two other companies who were able to provide the same testing services for prices in the $45-$60 range.  Knowing the price of the GED test would be increasing, the Higher Education Department (HED) testified they would issue a request for information for alternatives to the Person PLC GED test.  PED told the LESC they would participate in that effort.

After the request was issued, I suggested PED allow for a fair bidding process, so other testing contractors who offer high school equivalency tests at a lower price could compete.   To date, PED has not sought out other companies and continues requiring New Mexicans to pay the higher price of $120 per test by insisting on using Pearson, PLC.  The MOU with Pearson PLC can be broken at any time.  So why, I ask, is PED unwilling to consider the effects that a cost-hike has on people, who may be at the low end of the socio economic pole.

According to the United States Census Bureau, a 2009 study showed that GED certificate holders earned less than those who had a regular high school diploma, regardless of any other factors having to do with age, sex or race. The study states, “overall, high school diploma holders earned approximately $4,700 in mean monthly earnings compared with GED certificate holders, who earned $3,100.”

Besides income, there are many other factors that affect the choice to opt to take the GED rather than completing high school. Many of us might know at least one person who, under straining circumstances, had to take the GED because they were forced to take a minimum wage job to assist their families with bills or had to stay home to take care of children.

People were once able to earn their GED’s in 29 locations throughout the state. Community colleges used to be able to prepare students for tests, and purchase licenses to administer testing on location. Now the legislature is being told by PED that only Pearson certified institutions can administer GED tests. It’s unclear how many testing locations will have the resources to undergo expensive retrofits in order to administer this higher priced, newly computer-based test. Only a portion of the profit made from these tests goes back to the testing center — the rest is pocketed by Pearson PLC.

With consistent out-of-state contracts given to large corporations at the expense of public education in New Mexico, one has to wonder what the motives of the administration are. This type of treatment and disrespect to the people of this state who are trying to better themselves through education is only contributing to their difficulty in advancing or betterment. We cannot continue to privatize the very services we offer citizens to provide a fair chance in becoming successful in a capitalist country.

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State Senator John Sapien represents New Mexico District 9 (Bernalillo & Sandoval Counties)

New Mexico Awarded $12.5 Million Supplemental Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge Grants

The U.S. Departments of Education (ED) and Health and Human Services (HHS) announced today that New Mexico and five other states will each receive a supplemental award from the 2013 Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge (RTT-ELC) grant fund to improve quality and expand access to early learning programs throughout their states. The total award amount for these supplemental grants is $89,213,863, of which $12,500,000 will be awarded to New Mexico.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan
Education Secretary Arne Duncan

On April 16, 2013, the Departments announced that supplemental awards would be made with FY 2013 funds to those six grantees that did not receive the full amount requested. This supplemental award will bring the total funding amount to 75 percent of the funding originally requested in the FY 2011 applications.

In order to receive these supplemental awards, the New Mexico and the five other grantees will need to submit a detailed budget and budget narrative, revised performance measures and signed assurances. Funds must be used to support improvements in the State’s Tiered Quality Rating and Improvement System consistent with its FY 2011 application.

“The need for early learning is clear, as studies prove that children who have rich early learning experiences are better prepared to thrive in school,” said U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan. “These funds can help states develop and strengthen programs that serve America’s youngest learners by expanding access to high-quality early education and providing them with a strong start on the path to closing the opportunity gap.”

“As any parent knows, the first few years of a child’s life are critical,” said U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. “Kids who attend high-quality early learning and pre-school programs are more likely to do well in school. They’re more likely to secure a good job down the road; and they’re more likely to maintain successful careers long-term.”

The Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge is a key part of the Obama Administration’s comprehensive early learning agenda. The program is jointly administered by ED and HHS, and the two agencies are continuing to work closely together on new initiatives to expand and improve services for children from birth through age 5. Through the RTT-ELC the Obama Administration called on states to create proposals to improve early learning by coordinating existing programs, evaluating and rating program quality and increasing access to high-quality programs, particularly for children with high needs. In the first year, the competition received 37 applications and collectively awarded $500 million to nine states: California, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Ohio, Rhode Island and Washington. In 2012, five additional highest-rated states were awarded grants: Colorado, Illinois, New Mexico, Oregon and Wisconsin. A new competition will be held this year with applications available in late summer.

President Obama understands that the stubborn opportunity gap that confronts far too many American children and limits their life chances, often begins before they even enter kindergarten. The President’s 2014 budget request includes a historic new investment—$75 billion, in fully offset mandatory funds, over a 10-year period—in preschool education that supports universal access for all four-year olds from low-income and moderate-income families through a partnership with the states.

Click here for more information on the Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge Fund.

Hanging Out with High Tech Classrooms

President Obama travelled to Mooresville, NC yesterday to announce ConnectEd, an exciting new initiative designed to help bring America’s students into the digital age.  The goal of the ConnectED initiative is to bring high-speed internet connections to 99% of America’s students within five years.

Immediately following the event, James Kvaal, Deputy Director of the White House Domestic Policy Council joined high tech schools from across the country for a national virtual “show and tell” via Google+ Hangout.  During the conversation, moderated by Betsy Corcoran of EdSurge, students and teachers from the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia, PA, Loris Elementary in Horry County, SC and Chappell Elementary in Green Bay, WI demonstrated how they are using the internet and technology in their classrooms.

The students at Loris elementary talked about how they are using iPads to take photos for a virtual book, then bringing their projects into the digital age by doing presentations via blog post. The high school students at the Science Leadership Academy discussed using technology for everything from building websites and doing graphic design to leveraging their computer science skills to develop a custom video game.  The 5th graders at Chappell Elementary school are using their laptops and the power of the internet to raise their awareness of the world around them to raising money online to build a well in Sudan.

When asked how they would be impacted if they didn’t have this technology in their classroom, an elementary school student at Loris said “If my teacher and my principal came into the classroom and they told me we had to get rid of all our electronic devices — no more iPads, computers — they would have to call the emergency room because I’d be passed out on the floor…What can you do without technology anymore? We have iPads and we can get on our education apps. We need electronics in our lives because I just think it makes the world more interesting.”

Another student at the Science Leadership Academy noted “that would be really bad for me, because I want to be a computer scientist so everything I do is on the computer. I’m coding, I’m modeling, I’m always doing something on the computer. There’s no way I could do what I want to do without a computer.”

With only 20% of educators reporting that their classrooms have the connectivity to meet their teaching needs, that means thousands of schools are missing out on the kinds of opportunities that can be seen at Loris Elementary, the Science Leadership Academy and Chappell Elementary. With President Obama’s ConnectED announcement today, we will be investing in bringing the most modern, innovative and up-to-date content and technology into all of America’s classrooms, and giving our young people the best education in the world so they can compete for jobs in the global economy.

Watch and share today’s video.

President Obama Speaks on College Affordability

With student loan interest rates set to double on July 1, President Obama discusses his plan to keep college affordable for millions of students and middle class families and prevent rates from going up.

A year ago, we were in the same place — just a few weeks out from seeing the average student with these loans racking up an additional $1,000 in debt. Speaking from the Rose Garden, President Obama asked students and young people to speak out in favor of action on college affordability, just as they did in 2012.

“Last year, you convinced 186 Republicans in the House and 24 Republicans in the Senate to work with Democrats to keep student loan rates low,” he said. “You made something bipartisan happen in this town that is — that’s a powerful thing. You guys were able to get Democrats and Republicans to vote for something that was important. So this year, if it looks like your representatives have changed their minds, you’re going to have to call them up again or email them again or Tweet them again and ask them what happened, what changed?”

In his remarks, the President also made a broader argument: Increasing access to college isn’t just good for the future of young people — it’s an imperative for the nation at large.

“Higher education cannot be a luxury for a privileged few,” he said. “It is an economic necessity that every family should be able to afford, every young person with dreams and ambition should be able to access…Now is the time to reaffirm our commitment to you and the generation that’s coming behind you, and that if we work together to generate more jobs and educate more kids and open up new opportunities for everybody who’s willing to work and willing to push through those doors of opportunity, America can’t be stopped” President Obama said.

Watch and share today’s video.

DPNM State Chair Bregman Calls for Skandara Resignation or Firing; Nominee ‘Unqualified and Unconfirmable’

Governor Martinez allows Secretary-Designate to make up job title—action ‘arrogant and above the law’ 

DPNM Chair Sam Bregman called for Secretary-Designate Skandera to tender her resignation immediately, as unqualified, un-confirmable and for her unprecedented attempt to ignore the New Mexico State Senate and confirm herself as Secretary of the New Mexico Public Education Department.“Governor Martinez has nominated a polarizing, partisan consultant as Public Education Secretary.  Ms. Skandera is unqualified, cannot get confirmed after three legislative sessions and has set herself above the law, ignoring the authority of the New Mexico State Legislature. She has bestowed the title ‘Secretary of Education’ upon herself because she dislikes the process.  This display of arrogance is a flagrant abuse of power and indicates the disdain Ms. Skandera and Governor Martinez have for the legislature and the laws of New Mexico.  Ms. Skandera should resign now,” stated Chairman Bregman.

Currently, the two nominees for state cabinet departments, David Martin, Energy and Minerals and Ryan Flynn, Department of the Environment, are following state law and using secretary-designate for their job titles.

DPNM Chair Sam Bregman: Building the Future for Education

“Democrats share with all parents the commitment to prepare our children to lead lives of happiness and success. That’s why we’re dedicated to ensuring the next generation has access to a first-rate education and the tools to drive our economy forward.” -Democratic National Committee Statement on Education
New Mexico Democratic Party State Chair at the Pan Am Center on Saturday
New Mexico Democratic Party State Chair Sam Bregman

For Democrats, education is one of our core values that will help build a better future for all New Mexicans.

New Mexico Democrats:

  • Support full funding for schools; rejected in Governor Martinez’s budget.
  • Support improving evaluation systems for teachers and students.
  • Support Early Childhood Education-K-3+ programs, with an emphasis on targeting schools that need more resources to improve.
  • Took Merit Pay out of state budget and away from PED Secretary-Designate from rewarding her friends and put the money back into public schools.

In addition, the Democratic Party of New Mexico supports the student loan reform overhaul, signed into law by President Obama in 2010. This law ended government subsidies to big banks and made college more affordable to thousands of New Mexicans.

All New Mexicans want a good education for their kids and grandkids. Democrats have stepped up and have presented common sense solutions that parents, teachers, educators, as well as our kids can understand and support.

Governor Martinez is concerned with glossy photo-ops and pushing failed, partisan agendas while ignoring the proven ideas that parents, teachers and educators endorse and support.

These individuals serve on the front lines every day, performing their jobs in a professional and dignified manner, within the communities where they live and work.

Thank you to all parents, teachers and educators for all the hard work and dedication you give to our students.  It’s priceless.