Ronchetti presents his plan to improve NM schools

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In this file photo, Republican gubernatorial candidate Mark Ronchetti announces his public safety priorities earlier this year during a press conference in Albuquerque. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

Republican Mark Ronchetti cited dismal academic proficiency rates in New Mexico schools on Tuesday as he outlined the political agenda he said he would pursue as governor – a plan that includes granting stipends of $1,500 to help some students catch up and a law to limit the growth of administrative expenses.

He also said he would push for more instructional time for students and demand that districts spend their COVID-19 relief funds on classroom programs for children who have fallen behind, not improvements. fixed assets.

Ronchetti pitched the ideas as part of a plan he unveiled near the Albuquerque Public Schools headquarters.

He is challenging Democratic Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham and Libertarian Karen Bedonie in the Nov. 8 election.

“We’ve let the kids down from this state and this system year after year,” Ronchetti said.

At their own press conference, Democrats lambasted Ronchetti’s plan, calling parts of it ineffective, impractical or duplicative of Lujan Grisham’s policy initiatives.

Senate Speaker Pro Tem Mimi Stewart, an Albuquerque Democrat and retired teacher, said a recent teacher salary hike backed by Lujan Grisham is attracting more people to the profession and helping schools fill the positions. vacant.

COVID-19 relief funds, she said, pay for important heating, ventilation and cooling upgrades that benefit students, and imposing limits on administrative expenses is simply not necessary. .

“I truly believe he is a danger to public education here as we know it,” Stewart said of Ronchetti.

The debate comes as New Mexico grapples with consistently low proficiency rates in schools. According to test results released last week, only 25% of students in grades three to eight participating in an annual assessment were proficient in math and 34% were proficient in language arts.

Ronchetti, a former television weatherman, said it was time to abandon the “failed policies” of Lujan Grisham and some lawmakers.

He proposed a $100 million program that would provide stipends of $1,500 a year for three years to low-income families with children in grades one through three. The money, Ronchetti said, could be spent on tutoring or other academic support to help students catch up after the extended closures to in-person instruction at the start of the pandemic.

Ronchetti also took aim at former House Majority Leader Sheryl Williams Stapleton, an Albuquerque Democrat who resigned last year amid allegations that money for vocational education at APS had been routed to businesses and charities in which she had an interest.

Stapleton was charged last year and her lawyer said she vigorously denies the charges and will clear her name in court.

Ronchetti described the criminal case as an example of wasted money on education.

“We waste so much money on administration it’s terrifying,” he said.

The state, he said, should enact a law limiting the growth of school administration expenses.

He also called for giving parents more choice in the public schools their children attend, through charter or magnet schools; increased instruction time in classrooms; and greater financial transparency and public data on school performance.

Principals of high-performing schools should be given greater autonomy, he said, and chronically underperforming schools should undergo leadership changes.

Democrats said Ronchetti’s plan would hurt public education.

Stewart, the acting Senate president, said administrative expenses in schools “just aren’t an issue.”

This year’s budget legislation includes a provision calling on the Department of Public Education to monitor school and district budgets to ensure funding goes to functions most likely to improve student outcomes.

Lujan Grisham, Stewart said, has a strong record of educational achievement, including a bipartisan bill that raised teachers’ starting salaries from $40,000 to $50,000, in addition to other increases .

Nearly 5,200 new teachers joined the state workforce last fiscal year, according to Department of Public Education data, compared with less than 2,900 the previous year.

“Wages made a real difference,” Stewart said.

Increasing instruction time for students, she said, is already a priority of policymakers in New Mexico, who have made more funds available for programs that extend the school year, among other strategies.

But it takes time, Stewart said, for policy changes to take effect and improve school outcomes, especially after the disruption caused by the pandemic.

Whitney Holland, president of the American Federation of Teachers, a union, said Lujan Grisham had proven himself beyond campaign promises.

“We’ve seen his work firsthand,” she said. “Now is not the time to take your foot off the accelerator.”

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