OAKNM op-ed: Dow: Federal education findings alarming

The following opinion piece appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News on May 3, 2024 and in the Albuquerque Journal on May 5, 2024 under the title “OPINION: School choice is the last option for NM’s failing public education system.”


New Mexico parents and families are aware of the myriad failings of New Mexico’s K-12 system and sadly, often resigned to the expectation of awful outcomes. While Gov. Lujan Grisham and legislative Democrats tout more spending, policymakers refuse to embrace reforms that have worked in numerous states from Education Savings Accounts in Arizona to the “Mississippi Miracle.” 

A new study from the U.S. Department of Education, contains findings that SHOULD push policymakers to reform New Mexico’s failed education system. According to the “Consolidated Performance Review Report for FY 2023,” New Mexico is failing to meet most federal requirements related to statewide educational services, with most implementation methods in need of correction. 

Sixty PED requirements reviewed by USDE fell into that lowest rating. New Mexico received zero commendations. These findings highlight the fact that the mandates contained in the Yazzie-Martinez lawsuit has not resulted in needed improvements. This is true for disadvantaged students, but also for the system.

PED’s challenges in implementing federal requirements raise significant concerns about the state’s ability to provide a quality education to all students. Even more disturbing is PEDs inability to produce timely, complete, and accurate data, the USDE found. The federal department gave one example of incorrect participation rates on proficiency tests among English learners in 2022 being reported by the PED to the USDE.

Some of the 60 serious issues relating to New Mexico schools that should be addressed included accounting systems, fiscal Controls, and internal controls. Sadly, the federal report also dinged New Mexico for lack of data quality and lack of efforts to track student results. The following were all found to have significant compliance/quality concerns: 

  • State Assessment Requirements; 
  • Accountability System; 
  • Support for School Improvement; and 
  • State and Local Report Cards.

Finally, in several categories relating to “Preparing, Training, and Recruiting High-Quality Teachers, Principals, or Other School Leaders,” New Mexico was found to be in the lowest category with significant compliance/quality concerns. Clearly, higher salaries and benefits like free housing and insurance may be enticing, yet is not enough to retain teachers when PED is hindering educator’s ability to do the job they love and know well. New Mexico’s excessive rulemaking and top-down mandates are driving experienced educators out of the profession, leading to a shortage of qualified teachers and school leaders. Pay alone cannot compensate for the detrimental impact of bureaucratic interference on educators’ morale and ability to effectively teach.

The current approach of pouring more money into a broken education system is not yielding the desired results. Since the Yazzie- Marinez lawsuit, the state has poured millions of new reoccurring dollars into the K-12 system, yet PED’s rankings remain last in the nation. It is time to embrace school choice. Numerous states facing similar challenges have achieved positive outcomes by allowing funding to follow students to the school that best suits their needs, whether it be public, private, or parochial. This method has proven to enhance student performance and could be the solution to addressing New Mexico’s education workforce crisis.

By implementing school choice, we can not only empower families to select the most suitable educational option for their children but also provide educators with the freedom to choose where they teach. This approach ensures that all students, particularly those in underperforming public schools, have access to a quality education. It is imperative for New Mexico to prioritize the needs of students and educators by allowing resources to follow students to schools that can cater to their individual needs effectively. New Mexico must take bold steps to institute school choice for both students and educators, particularly. This will put an end to PED’s continual misaligned rulemaking. Let us prioritize the well-being of students and educators alike, offering them the chance to thrive in an environment that best suits their needs. At this point, choice is literally the last option left. 


Rebecca Dow is project manager of Opportunity for All Kids, a New Mexico-based educational reform project of the Rio Grande Foundation.