Lots Of Education-Related Activity At Play In Roundhouse
Wednesday was another busy day for education-related legislation in the Roundhouse. Topics discussed Wednesday included using state funds for private school credits, increasing health care coverage, reinstating a state board of education and even legislation attempting to break up Albuquerque public schools.
AFT New Mexico has worked hard to cover each of those bills and provide testimony about things that align with our values as educators.
Recap – Tuesday, January 31:
Housework, Veterans, and Military Affairs Committee
HB 150, sponsored by MP Natalie Figueroa, will increase contributions to the NM Retiree Healthcare Authority by 0.5%, with a worker-employer split of 0.17% and 0.33% respectively. This legislation is critical to our AFT NM retiree constituency, and if enacted, HB 150 would help better fund the agency’s obligations to New Mexico retirees.
AFT NM backed HB 150 and went ahead with unanimous support from Tuesday’s HLVMC.
Wednesday February 1st:
Senate Education Committee
Senate Bill 109, borne by Sen. Craig Brandt, would have used public taxpayer money to set up “Education Freedom Accounts” that would be used to send students to private schools in New Mexico.
AFT New Mexico opposes the use of public funds for private school tuition. Additionally, we had major concerns about the application of this bill, which would create inequalities between rural and urban students, as many rural communities do not have private schools, further making our education system unequal. Members of the Senate Education Committee tabled SB 109 in a 4-2 party line vote. We thank Sens. Bill Soules, Harold Pope, Jr., Shannon Pinto, and Moe Maestas for their strong support of public education in New Mexico.
House Education Committee
House Bill 82/a, the Student Borrowers Bill of Rights, received its second hearing this morning. This bill, sponsored by Reps Christine Chandler and Patricia Roybal Caballero, aims to regulate and license student debt servicers doing business in New Mexico.
The legislation also provides mechanisms when borrowers are defrauded by lenders through fraudulent practices or procedures by establishing a New Mexico Ombudsman as the state attorney for defrauded borrowers.
AFT New Mexico strongly supports HB 82/a and supported the legislation in committee. House Bill 82/a was advanced on Wednesday morning with the unanimous support of the House Education Committee.
House Bill 102 carried by Rep. Ray Lara and co-sponsored by Reps. Debbie Sariñana, Natalie Figueroa and Sen. Harold Pope, Jr. would expand health insurance premium coverage for New Mexico’s public K-12 educators and several New Mexico higher education institutions participating in public state insurance boards (e.g., AFT NM Locals Northern New Mexico College and Santa Fe Community College). The legislation would also include those in the Albuquerque Public Schools insurance plan.
Specifically, educators would pay their first $10,000 premium in full, and all health premiums over $10,000 would be 60% paid by the employer. For many educators, this would mean 100 percent coverage of their insurance plan.
AFT NM, one of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s top priorities, was a strong supporter of this legislation. Not only does it put more money in the pockets of New Mexico educators, but it also helps address the lower coverage rate for educators compared to other government employees. HB 102 passed the House Education Committee by a bipartisan vote of 10-2.
House Bill 85, sponsored by Rep. Bill Rehm, is the annual “Break up APS” legislation. The legislation would force districts with more than 40,000 students to be broken up into smaller districts. (Note: There is only one district in New Mexico that serves over 40,000 students.)
Fortunately, members of the House Education Committee passed this bill by a bipartisan vote of 10-2.
House Trade and Economic Development Committee
House Bill 39/a, sponsored by Rep. Liz Thomson, aims to align dual-licensed teaching support offerings with the existing three-tier funding system currently in place for Level I, II, or III teachers and Level III advisors.
HB 39/a would not cut/remove union negotiated collective agreements, but rather set minimum wages for this critical group of educators. HB 39/a also does not provide for an upper earnings limit for these educators. HB 39/a was changed in committee to fix a small technical problem.
AFT New Mexico testified in support of HB 39/a and it was brought forward unanimously by the House Commerce and Economic Development Committee this afternoon. It previously received unanimous support from members of the House Education Committee.
Senate Rules of Procedure Committee
Senate Joint Resolution 1, sponsored by Senator Steven Neville, would reinstate a statewide New Mexico Board of Education. Although AFT NM has supported legislation of a similar concept in the past, we oppose these laws in their written form.
In particular, we are concerned that the bill will remove many of the financial and policy responsibilities from the NM Public Education Department. We believe that policy and financial oversight should remain the purview of the NM PED as they are ultimately responsible for the implementation of the same policy.
In addition, the law provides for the 10 members of the Public Education Commission to serve as the first members of the state Board of Education, with future positions being elected during the general election. We do not believe that it is appropriate to give the members of the PEC, elected for a very narrow purpose, the task of creating and administering national education policy. We also believe that choosing these positions would unnecessarily politicize the Board of Education.
The legislation also unnecessarily restricts future secretaries of education from holding a New Mexico teaching license. While we believe that a New Mexico educator is likely to be best suited for this role, we believe this provision is overly restrictive.
AFT NM opposes this law as it stands and the bill has been “rolled” (delayed) based on feedback and input from the committee. We will continue to monitor SJR 1.
Thursday February 2nd:
Housework, Veterans, and Military Affairs Committee
HB 181, carried by Rep. Joanne Ferrary, Debbie Sariñana, Christine Trujillo and Senator Bill Soules, will be heard Thursday.
The legislation aims to broaden the definition and eligibility of Nationally Board Certified Teachers to provide differentiation for their certification. When enacted, HB 181 would extend the differential authority to NBCT advisors and administrators with a current certification. AFT NM supports this legislation.