Once again, the National Education Association (NEA) has proven itself to be simply another left-wing special interest group that cares more about obtaining and spending taxpayer money than enacting policies that benefit New Mexico’s children. This is the clear message of the recent article by their president, Betty Patterson.
She spends her first few paragraphs decrying efforts to make New Mexico a “right to work” state. Interestingly, in New Mexico, teachers already have the option to join or pay dues to a union. In other words, teachers in New Mexico government schools currently live under a reasonable approximation of “right to work.” The NEA did actively fight “right to work” but that’s simply because the organization supports all manner of liberal causes regardless of their impact on students.
Opposition to what Patterson calls “vouchers” is just one prime example of unions’ divergence from the interests of children, families, and taxpayers. There was no “voucher” bill introduced in the 2015 session, but a system of tax credits to enable low-income and needy kids to go to the school of their choice did pass the House.
School choice tax credit programs exist in 14 states from “deep blue” Rhode Island to “red” Arizona. Wherever they’ve been enacted, demand for scholarships outpaces availability. The best available polling found that New Mexicans support tax credits on at least a 2-1 basis, yet the unions and their liberal Senate allies didn’t give the tax credit bill so much as a hearing.
Failure of the ban on social promotion was another cause for celebration for the unions. The ban would have required that all third-graders who score in the lowest category on the statewide reading test be held back in school starting in the 2016-17 school year. The bill also would increase support for struggling readers in kindergarten through eighth grade.
Banning social promotion is a policy change supported on nearly a 3-1 basis by New Mexicans. Prominent Democrats including both Bill and Hillary Clinton have spoken out in support of banning social promotion as a stand-alone policy (not including the increased support for remediation included in the bill considered during New Mexico’s 2015 session). Yet again, the unions and their allies convinced the Senate’s liberal leadership to not even have a committee hearing on the bill.
The failure of those two reforms with such strong public backing should be enough to illustrate that the NEA is more interested in its own power than it is in the academic success of students. Unfortunately, the unions and their allies killed two more house-passed bills (HB 76 and HB 181) that would have simplified or provided for alternative teacher licensing. The idea behind both was to attract and keep our best teachers in New Mexico classrooms.
Unfortunately, the unions seem to oppose any reform that does not pour more money into the education system. According to the Friedman Foundation, between 1992 and 2009, New Mexico’s student population rose by 7 percent while the number of teachers went up by 30 percent and the number of administrators and other non-teaching staff rose 47 percent. Results have not been commensurate with these increases but the unions continue to oppose reforms.
The accumulation of money and political power are the unions’ goals and any student that is allowed to go elsewhere or even be held back is an admission that the current system is not working. The unions depend on that system and an ever-growing infusion of tax dollars to grow their bottom lines.
Slowly but surely, New Mexicans are realizing that accountability and reform, not money, are needed to improve our schools. Unfortunately, large numbers of our children will continue to fall through the cracks until the voices of parents outweigh those of the politically-powerful unions in Santa Fe.
Paul Gessing is the President of New Mexico’s Rio Grande Foundation. The Rio Grande Foundation is an independent, non-partisan, tax-exempt research and educational organization dedicated to promoting prosperity for New Mexico based on principles of limited government, economic freedom and individual responsibility.