Updated: May 6
The lack of money has never been the problem with our educational system, we can cannot outspend our problems. But - there is a solution!
Every year we are told as taxpayers that if we just spend more, then things will get better in our schools. And, every year we spend more yet the results never seem to change. Our state is now last in student test scores and first in high school drop out rates. For this year's freshman class research tells us that 31% will not complete high school. I find these statistics to be alarming - unacceptable - and fixable.
I do not blame our teachers or students for this dilemma. As an educator I understand that teachers are dedicated, hard working professionals who want the very best for their students. The problem is that we are trapped in a failed system that needs bold changes, and in some areas a return to "better days".
We are constantly told that the reason people do not become teachers (or leave the profession) is because of money. Thus, the #1 factor driving our teachers is their paycheck - not a sense of public service, a calling or love of their students. For years workplace surveys have reported that most do not enter or leave a profession based upon finances alone. In fact, salary is often down the list when educators are surveyed. Topping the list is typicality job satisfaction, a sense of accomplishment, support from their supervisors and relationships with their colleagues. As a teacher I find it somewhat insulting to be told that my primary career goal is making money. Teachers are far more than that, which anyone who has ever worked in a school will understand.
I support our teachers being well paid, as well as our military and law enforcement. Over the years I have voted for many tax increases for schools, public safety and social services. However, I also feel that it is reasonable to expect improvement and accountability for way state government spends our money.
Here are some ideas of how we can improve education, if we are willing to make the needed changes in Santa Fe...
1) We need to observe what other more successful states are doing in their schools and adopt positive changes in our schools. This includes joining 34 other states in the adoption of school choice. Let the money follow the child. These are our children and it is our money - why shouldn't parents be able to chose their child's school?
2) Teachers were once equipped with the needed tools and support to provide reasonable discipline and character standards in our school - we need to return to that.
3) Our university teacher education programs must accept responsibility for the quality of training often received. If more time was spent training our future educators on how to help their students excel in reading, math, science, etc. - and less time spent (not by all, but many) promoting their political views...we would see positive changes in our K-12 student scores.
4) Classrooms are often overcrowded. This places our teachers in an unfair situation where much is expected, but little support is provided.
5) I believe in school choice. I believe that parents should be able (regardless of income level) to have a voice in where their children attend school. These are our children and it is our money as taxpayers. I have heard for years that school choice takes money away from public schools. The reality is just the opposite. Currently there are over 22,000 students attending non-public schools receiving no state funding for the child's education. At an average statewide funding rate of (example) $13,000/student - this actually saves the state over $300 million annually.
In many ways, school choice becomes a "win-win". Parents are able to select their child's school regardless of income level, and our public schools save much needed funding to improve their programs and employee wages. Good schools (public - private - and home schooling) make us a stronger state and more appealing to those who wish to invest in New Mexico by bringing new businesses and jobs to our state.