Placing a temporary moratorium — the key word is “temporary” — on the growth of charter schools in New Mexico is smart planning.
Under legislation now in the state House of Representatives, a moratorium on new charter schools would start June 14 and last until Jan. 1, 2022. It leaves the state with 96 charter schools and doesn’t limit enrollment or seek to close any. Currently, some 26,000 students are being educated in such schools.
Here’s why this is a good idea right now.
New Mexicans must prioritize what needs to be done in education right now to improve results for more children. First on the list has to be meeting the demands of a district court judge who already has ruled that the state is failing to fund education adequately.
Under the terms of that ruling, the state is being asked to spend more money better serving children who are at risk — that is, the children most likely to fall short in school. The deadline for coming up with the plan to do so is April of this year. That needs to be the main priority.
The next area of focus, of course, will be how the state goes about expanding early childhood educational opportunities. There is money in the operating budget to open more pre-K slots for kids, as well as renewed efforts at using a sliver of Land Grant Permanent Fund money for preschool efforts. Educators will need to worry about training teachers, hiring staff and building classrooms to handle the thousands of children who will be enrolling.
Taking a break in adding more schools gives the state, as well as charter school advocates, the opportunity to assess how the system is working right now. We’re not talking about pitting charters against traditional schools to see which ones succeed in educating children better. That fight is a losing one because some charter schools are great and some are not, just as some traditional public schools work and some need to be reworked. We are talking about assessing the system of charter schools, all the way from approval to oversight to outcomes.
The Public Education Department needs to use the moratorium to make sure there is adequate oversight of charter school budgets, curriculum, administrators and facilities. Do department employees charged with oversight of school budgets, for example, have enough time to do the job properly? Who can raise a red flag when salaries are out of whack or building rents seem too high? What is the system for sharing innovations that work in charter schools — remember, they are supposed to offer something different — with educators in regular public schools? Is Rep. Christine Trujillo, D-Albuquerque, correct that charters are receiving proportionally more dollars than traditional schools because of a quirk in the state funding formula?
With New Mexico’s system of education already found to be underfunded, opening more and more schools — each with capital and operating costs — is foolish right now, even if it’s only one or two a year. Instead, approve the legislation halting charter school growth and use the time for reflection and improvement. That way, charter schools will continue to provide choice and opportunity, and so will the schools that educate the vast majority of New Mexico children.