- Associated Press - Friday, January 31, 2014

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) - Democratic lawmakers pushed ahead Friday with a proposal to overhaul New Mexico’s oversight of education by reversing a decision by voters a decade ago that gave the governor more influence over public school policy.

The Senate Rules Committee approved a proposed constitutional amendment on a party-line vote that would remove the Public Education Department from the direct control of the governor.

Rather than having the agency run by a governor-appointed secretary of education, the measure would establish a 10-member elective state board of education to set policy and select a superintendent to serve as top administrator.

That’s similar to the system that was in place before the constitution was changed in 2003 at the urging of then-Gov. Bill Richardson, a Democrat.

Local school boards would continue to oversee operations of individual school districts.

Republicans opposed the latest proposal, contending it was a slap at GOP Gov. Susana Martinez, who has clashed with Democrats over school policies.

Martinez, despite opposition from education groups, has implemented a new system for evaluating teachers that’s heavily based on student performance on standards-based tests. The governor also advocates merit pay for teachers.

Democrats have so far refused to confirm the governor’s education secretary, Hanna Skandera, who has never worked as a teacher or administrator in a public elementary or secondary school.

Skandera served as deputy chief of staff and senior policy adviser to former U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings and was a deputy commissioner of education in the Florida Department of Education.

The National Education Association-New Mexico and the New Mexico Association of School Superintendents were among those backing the constitutional amendment sponsored by Sen. Michael Padilla, an Albuquerque Democrat.

“It’s also going to put education back in the hands of professional educators. Whereas today generally anybody can be appointed the secretary of education,” said Padilla.

But Republicans said the measure was unnecessary if the goal was to find a way around Martinez and her policies.

“Ultimately it’s the governor of the state that sets education policy. The secretary of education is charged with implementing that policy,” said Sen. Sander Rue, an Albuquerque Republican. “The good news for everybody today in this room is if you want to change this quickly, you’ve got an election in November.”

Martinez is running for re-election to a second four-year term.

Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, a Belen Democrat, said he opposed the 2003 constitutional change.

“Quite frankly back then it was an end run around the Legislature, and it was a power grab by Gov. Richardson to consolidate all of the power in the executive,” said Sanchez.

Senate GOP Leader Stuart Ingle of Portales also opposed the 2003 change but said it was adopted by voters. He said Martinez’s policies should be given a chance.

“The main thing in education that makes it work is parental involvement. A superintendent, a school board, no one can make that happen. Parents are the first line in school work. If they care how their kiddo is doing in school, the kiddo will do great. And we can’t legislate that,” said Ingle.

A proposed constitutional amendment goes to voters if approved by the Legislature. Martinez couldn’t veto it.

The measure must clear two more committee before heading to the 42-member Senate for a possible vote. It also would need approval in the House, where Democrats hold a narrow majority.


Follow Barry Massey on Twitter at https://twitter.com/bmasseyAP

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