SANTA FE– A bill that would limit the expansion of charter schools in parts of New Mexico was tabled by the Senate Education Committee on February 24.
The bill would prohibit the opening of new charters in school districts where charters already have a significant presence.
The near unanimous vote came after debate about parents’ right to choose where their child attends school.
Sponsored by Senator Mimi Stewart (D – Bernalillo) and Representative Tara L. Lujan (D – Santa Fe), Senate Bill 422 would have stopped new charter schools from opening in school districts where 10 percent of the district’s students are enrolled in charters.
.According to Stewart, 10 of the 89 school districts in New Mexico would be affected by this bill.
Stewart said the bill was not an attempt to eliminate charter schools. She said that the bill would not cause the closure of any existing charter. Rather, she said, the bill was designed to level the playing field so that public schools could remain competitive and not have to shut down as the popularity of charter schools rises.
This statement was met with mixed reaction from a gallery filled with people mostly opposed to the bill.
Committee Chairman William Soules (D – Doña Ana) asked the audience for those in support of the bill to raise their hands, and four hands went up. When he asked for those in opposition to raise their hands, so many hands went up the chairman asked for only “six or seven” opposition members to speak to save time.
Richard Romero, a lobbyist for Excellent Schools New Mexico, was the first to speak in opposition to the bill. He expressed concern that limiting the expansion of charter schools would strip families of the right to choose the best place for their children’s education.
Matt Pahl, executive director of Public Charter Schools of New Mexico, said that district-run public schools need to do more if they don’t want charters opening in their districts, rather than pushing a bill in the state legislature.
“If school districts don’t want charter schools, they need to build schools and programs that are what families want,” he said. “This is a bad bill.”
Pahl’s sentiment was shared by the next several speakers, including the Executive Director of El Camino Rael Academy in Albuquerque; and Steve Carillo, a current New Mexico Public Education Commissioner.
Far fewer speakers supported SB422.
One supporter was Superintendent of Santa Fe Public Schools Hilario “Larry” Chavez. He expressed concern that charter schools are limiting the abilities of public schools to do their jobs, with 25 percent of the student population in Santa Fe attending charters, and more attending private schools.
Chavez said that charters are supposed to be providing an innovative way to educate, but are instead following the same path as traditional public schools. Many teachers in the district are worried about losing their jobs because district-run schools are losing students to charters.
Others speaking in favor of the bill included representatives from Las Cruces Public Schools, and the National Education Association – New Mexico, who also said that they were concerned about the way funds can be diverted from the classroom to executive salaries.
Senator Craig Brandt (R – Sandoval) expressed concern that this bill would limit parents’ choice for their children’s education. He said his children attend public, charter, and private schools, and that his family appreciated the ability to choose what was ideal for each child “I believe that parents are the best [people] to decide where their children [can receive] the best education.”
Senator Gay Kernan (R – Chavez, Eddy, Lea) said she was most concerned about charter schools that serve students virtually. She asked whether students would be counted in the school district where they reside, or where the school is headquartered.
Soules was the only member of the committee to vote “No” on the motion, which was tabled on a 7-1 vote.