Bills targeting at-risk students advance in House

January 29, 2019

The House Education Committee on Monday unanimously approved four bills aimed at helping the state’s at-risk students — an action designed to comply with a judge’s ruling that more must be done to help those children.

One proposal, House Bill 120, would allocate $5 million to create a fund to pay college tuition and related costs for students who are studying to become bilingual-certified teachers. Educators speaking in support of the bill said many schools need more bilingual educators to meet the needs of their students.

For example, Linda Hale, superintendent of the Hatch Valley Public Schools, said 50 percent of her kindergartners arrive speaking only Spanish. She needs at least four more bilingual-certified teachers to accommodate them, she said.

A related measure, House Bill 111, would provide nearly $2 million in grants to provide professional development for educators working in bilingual or multicultural programs in schools.

House Bill 159, would align the work of the state Indian Education Act, Hispanic Education Act and Bilingual Education Act within the Public Education Department.

By collaborating they hope to set goals for students, conduct needs assessments and provide data on their efforts, educators told the committee members.

The fourth measure, House Bill 171, would increase starting salaries for teachers in all three tiers of the state’s system by some 20 percent.

Salaries would rise to $45,000 for level one teachers, $55,000 for level two and $65,000 for level three. The bill would also provide teachers with an additional 10 days for professional development.

The cost for the bill would be $214 million, said Rep. Sheryl Williams Stapleton, D-Albuquerque.

Several superintendents and teachers attending the committee hearing said the state is losing graduates of New Mexico college education programs to nearby states that pay teachers more.

“We train them. Colorado takes them away,” said Charles Bowyer, executive director of the National Education Association of New Mexico.

Many people supporting the bills said they are an interconnected package to help more students succeed.

“They’re all like a piece of a puzzle and every single one is necessary to make the changes we need to make,” said Sue Cleveland, superintendent of the Rio Rancho Public Schools.

Preston Sanchez, attorney for the New Mexico Center for Law and Poverty, which represents one set of plaintiffs in the court case that spurred legislators to act, said the package “moves the state toward compliance.”

State District Judge Sarah Singleton of Santa Fe gave the governor and legislators until April 15 to devise a plan to help struggling students in a state that usually ranks near or at the bottom in most national education studies.

The four bills next go to the House Appropriations and Finance Committee.

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