- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 20, 2019

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - No new charter schools would be allowed to open in New Mexico until 2022 under a proposal that cleared its first legislative hurdle Wednesday, an indication that New Mexico is among other states with Democratic strongholds where support for school choice is facing an uphill battle.

The proposed moratorium in New Mexico has the support of teachers unions and several school board and superintendent associations. It passed the House Education Committee with a 10-3 vote.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who was among several Democrats nationwide to flip governor seats during the midterm elections, also has voiced support for a moratorium to give state leaders time to review how existing schools are performing.

Some parents and charter school administrators testified that putting on the brakes would limit options for families in a state that has struggled for decades under Democratic and Republican administrations to boost success rates in public schools.

They talked about the smaller class sizes and more diverse ways of connecting with students that charter schools have provided.

Bruce Langston, president of the governing board at Mission Achievement and Success Charter School in Albuquerque, said prohibiting new charter schools over the next couple of years amounts to an attack on parents’ ability to choose.

Langston and others pointed to the rigorous process that charter schools undergo before being given the green light by schools districts and the state Public Education Commission.

“You’re the ones who stand up for me - the taxpayer, the citizen - to give me the opportunity to appropriately educate my child, and I’m asking you not to take those options away from me,” Langston told the lawmakers.

The bill’s supporters argue that charter schools siphon money from traditional schools and that New Mexico is now under pressure to reform the way it funds the public education system as a result of court-ordered mandates that call for improving opportunities for minority and low-income students.

Rep. Christine Trujillo, one of the Democratic sponsors of the legislation, said the bill wouldn’t affect existing charters or prevent parents from sending their children to those schools.

“The issue isn’t about closing them down,” she said. “The issue is about stopping for a short time new charter schools until we can recheck everything and make sure that we’re doing a lot better job than we’ve been doing.”

About 26,000 students attend charter schools in New Mexico. Supporters of the schools testified Wednesday that more than 40 percent have earned A and B grades while less than 20 percent of public schools have reached that mark.

Democrats argued that there have been mixed outcomes among the state’s charter schools while more than half of all new education funding over the last decade has been allocated to them.

Patricia Gipson, chair of the state Public Education Commission, said the elected board monitors all charter schools to ensure they are meeting the requirements of their performance contracts. If they fail, they can be closed.

Nine schools have been closed over the past three years, and only one or two proposals for new charter schools end up making it through the application process each year, she said.

In the Senate, a panel of lawmakers endorsed a separate proposal Wednesday that would establish additional requirements for “virtual charter schools” - those that provide more than 60 percent of their instruction online.

The measure covers monitoring and oversight by the state and limits on enrollment for new schools until they meet or exceed performance standards.

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