League of Women Voters seeks moratorium on N.M. charter schools

Public Education Department Secretary Hanna Skandera supports the charter school movement. ‘Our kids’ parents need to be provided with choices, and charter schools give that to them,’ she says. Chris Quintana/New Mexican file photo

A prominent organization with a focus on state and local government issues has taken a stand against the charter school movement in New Mexico, and it wants the Legislature to halt any new charters for the small, privately run schools that operate with public funds.

The League of Women Voters of New Mexico argues that charter schools are shortchanging students in the state’s traditional public schools.

The league president, Meredith Machen, asked the Legislative Finance Committee earlier this month to introduce a bill that would place a moratorium on new charter schools until the state can improve academic achievement across the board and “ensure funding equity for all public school students.”

Her plea pits the league against New Mexico’s Cabinet secretary of public education, Hanna Skandera, who supports the charter movement.

Skandera called Machen’s proposal unreasonable.

“Our kids’ parents need to be provided with choices, and charter schools give that to them,” Skandera said.

Machen argued that New Mexico’s per-pupil funding formula unfairly provides more money to students in small school districts and charter schools.

“We have plenty of charter schools — 100 or more,” Machen said. “Can we afford to add more and more schools? I don’t think so.”

She said almost half of the increases in the funding formula during the past seven years have gone to charter school students, making the state “fiscally irresponsible” when it comes to the needs of students in traditional public schools.

Charles Sallee, deputy director of the Legislative Finance Committee, confirmed as much in an email. “Funding in the state’s public school funding formula increased by almost $212 million between FY08-FY15 and charter schools, which serve about 7 percent of students statewide, received almost $98 million, or 46 percent, of that amount,” he wrote. “Collectively, the state’s 89 school districts, which serve over 309 thousands, students saw increased formula funding of almost $114 million.”

Sallee said the Legislative Finance Committee will hear a new report on the per-pupil funding formula and how it impacts charters schools sometime in January.

Skandera, while presenting her education budget proposal to the Legislative Finance Committee, told lawmakers that, based on statewide data, seven of the top 10 best-performing schools in the state are charters. Skandera didn’t identify those schools.

“Our charter schools are serving an incredible need,” she said. “We should not paint a broad brush around our schools … especially our charter schools.”

She said many traditional public schools “disappoint our children daily and remain open for decades and decades.”

Rep. Patricia Lundstrom, D-Gallup, asked Skandera and Paul Aguilar, deputy secretary of finance and operations for the Public Education Department, if they would consider creating a separate funding formula for charter schools.

“If they [charters] do work, what’s wrong with having a separate formula for them?” Lundstrom asked.

“It is an equalization formula,” Aguilar responded. “If two separate formulas are not equalized, it could cause a lot of problems.”

New Mexico has about 100 charter schools. More than 60 have been approved by the state. Individual school districts also have the authority to approve charters.

The state Public Education Commission, which operates separately from the Public Education Department, approves or denies charter school applications every year. Skandera, however, has sometimes stepped in to overrule the commission’s decisions.

During the past few years, the Public Education Commission has approved and denied about the same number of charter applications.

For example, it approved two and denied four in 2015. In 2014, it approved three and denied three. In 2013, it approved two and denied three.

The Public Education Commission cannot approve or renew more than 15 charter schools in one year.

Public Education Commissioner Jeff Carr said in an email that he supports Machen’s request, although he did not elaborate.

Whether Machen’s request will gain traction is unclear. State Sen. John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, chairman of the Legislative Finance Committee, said he did not get the impression that there will be a “full-court push” to introduce legislation stopping the creation of new charter schools in the 2016 legislative session, which begins Jan. 19.

“We’ve tried to put a moratorium on that in the past, and the Legislature has either vetoed the idea or it doesn’t get anywhere,” he said.

Charter schools are seen by many as an alternative to traditional public schools in that they have more autonomy, can focus on a particular thread of education — the arts or science, for example — and can offer smaller class sizes.

Machen told the Legislative Finance Committee that the majority of charter schools perform no better than other public schools. National studies on the comparison offer mixed results.

A 2009 study by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes at Stanford University reported that only 17 percent of charters offer “superior education” for students. But a 2015 CREDO report said urban charter schools are outperforming traditional schools in math and reading proficiency.

Contact Robert Nott at 986-3021 or rnott@sfnewmexican.com.

(7) comments

Rod Lievano

Of course Skandera supports Charter schools. They're a party tenet.

Loretta Martinez

James Baca, get your facts straight, admittance to charter schools is by lottery not how much Monday you have!!!

John Haynes

Charter schools are one of the few bright lights in the generally abysmal state of New Mexico education. Naturally the Teachers Union and its allies in the liberal ruling class wish to kill any threat to their stifling control of public education.

Rod Lievano

These "bright lights" burn very bright indeed in the portfolios of for-profit educational organizations.

James Baca

Charter schools really do drain the coffers, and I sometimes wonder if it is a ploy to separate the rich from the poor.

Pierce Knolls

Another attempt to enforce equity that drags the top down instead of lifting the bottom up.

Jerry Appel

If Sec. Skandera is correct, 7 out of 10 top performing schools are charters (her evaluation system), and these charters have smaller class sizes, then the answer to improving academic performance is more and smaller campuses getting the same per pupil funding as those "successful" charters. Of course the 800 pound gorilla in the room is attendance. The recent report about the K-3 Plus program and my own experience as a New Mexico teacher tells me that attendance is the real issue. A recent article in this news outlet quoted Santa Fe high schools' best campus with a 90 percent rate of attendance of the three campuses. New Mexicans don't value school enough to show up and charters are able to cherry pick the kids that do show up, hence more success. In Texas where kids and parents are taken to court and fined for not showing up, charters perform poorly compared to public schools on average which is the national norm.

Welcome to the discussion.

Thank you for joining the conversation on Santafenewmexican.com. Please familiarize yourself with the community guidelines. Avoid personal attacks: Lively, vigorous conversation is welcomed and encouraged, insults, name-calling and other personal attacks are not. No commercial peddling: Promotions of commercial goods and services are inappropriate to the purposes of this forum and can be removed. Respect copyrights: Post citations to sources appropriate to support your arguments, but refrain from posting entire copyrighted pieces. Be yourself: Accounts suspected of using fake identities can be removed from the forum.