An education system we deserve

I attended 13 public schools before I graduated from Highland High School in southeast Albuquerque in 1978 (go Hornets!). During my elementary and middle school years, my mother made me and my siblings’ lunches every single day - this was affordable for a Marine climbing the ranks and supporting a family of six. 

My mother was a stay-at-home mom until I turned 14, and up to that point, we were made to study hard after school each day, and appreciate what my dad called “a free education.” By the time I reached Highland, my mom went to work at the Bureau of Indian Affairs Education Department, and I finished my senior year having had some of the most interesting, thoughtful, and caring teachers I could ever have hoped for - they inspired me to want to learn more. 

Fast forward 39 years, and we are all too familiar with what happens when we don’t prioritize our students, teachers, and public schools. For decades, we have struggled to keep students in the classroom, provide supportive environments for our most vulnerable students, find equitable tools to measure performance, and preserve the wealth of experience and knowledge that exists among our community of educators. With nearly eight years under Gov. Martinez’s failed leadership, we are more than struggling -- we are desperate for our schools to be properly funded, and want our teachers to be able to teach with independence and academic freedom; and, just when we thought things couldn’t get any worse, Trump was elected, and nominated Betsy DeVos, who is the most unqualified, ideological, anti-public education Education Secretary in our lifetime.

According to numerous studies, the number one factor in student success is the zip code in which they live. In 2016, AdvancED looked at 832 “low performing” schools across 10 states -- including New Mexico -- and found that in 92.3% of those schools, over half of the students were living in poverty.

We are not strangers to poverty in New Mexico. We all see the headlines consistently ranking New Mexico at or near the bottom for jobs, economic growth, and child hunger. When we look at our education system and consider the root of our struggle, we can’t ignore the biggest hurdle we face is providing for basic needs -- steady income, access to healthcare, food and clean water -- for New Mexicans and their families. 

When the needs of children are not met, teaching and learning conditions will inevitably suffer.

In conjunction with addressing social determinants of educational success like poverty, we have the responsibility to develop, resource, and sustain a world-class education system, and I have ideas and commitments to help us get there.

Early Childhood Care & Education Must Be Prioritized

Studies in child health and human development consistently show better outcomes in language, reading, and math for children who have access to high quality care from birth. When children are able to access pre-K, they do better in school and are more likely to graduate, among other positive indicators. We must:

• Put more money into early childhood care and education. Currently, far too little of state and federal budgets are allocated to this, and we also don’t take full advantage of federal grant programs that are available. We have choices when it comes to our budget and how we spend our money, and I will not sacrifice the success of future generations for the sake of tax cuts to corporations and the wealthy. Investments should include expansion of early learning centers -- especially in rural and low-income communities; and, we must ensure early childhood educators and professionals are paid according to the programs they are expected to provide. High-quality early childhood education and care require the wages to match. 

• Subsidize early childhood care and education. According to AFT New Mexico, infant care in New Mexico costs 33% more than in-state tuition at a 4-year public college. This is completely unsustainable, and creates extreme financial burden on low-income families, of which there are many in New Mexico. I support the AFT New Mexico proposal for a strategy to make early childhood care and education fully accessible, and to cap costs at no more than 10% of a family’s income.

• Ensure early childhood care and education are culturally appropriate and accessible in a child’s primary language. In New Mexico we enjoy a diversity of cultures, beliefs, and communities. All education should reflect the breadth of wisdom and practices we have available to us -- especially in Native communities that seek to preserve their teachings and heritage through the generations.

• Protect funding for Head Start. I will fight against any legislation that seeks to cut funding this vital program.

We Must Protect & Fully Resource Traditional Public Schools

Children and teenagers spend the majority of their lives on school campuses. The majority of children and teenagers in America do so in public schools. Thus, we must resource our public schools to serve the whole child, and ensure tools such as social-emotional learning, restorative justice practices, behavioral health education - including addiction, and school-based health centers are implemented in every school district. I will firmly oppose cuts to public education in the federal budget, and support funding mechanisms such as land grant distributions and tax increases on wealthy individuals and corporations to fill budget gaps and increase overall funding levels. We must also:

• Tackle & Dismantle the School-to-Prison Pipeline. Students of color, immigrant students, and disabled students, are more likely to be disciplined, suspended, and expelled than white, citizened, and able-bodied students. In fact, Native American students are more likely to be suspended than every other racial group, with the exception of African Americans. Zero-tolerance disciplinary policies and the increased presence of police on school campuses create a funnel of students from the school environment to the juvenile justice system. Our schools, educators, and campus police are not immune to racial and other kinds of implicit and explicit bias that creates this reality.

We must put end zero-tolerance policies and implement robust restorative practices that address behavior and relationship repair instead of punishment. It does us and our future generations no good to kick students out of school. Instead, we must promote community policing models that prioritize access to resources for students and their families.

• Ensure LGBTQ students are protected and can access the resources they need to thrive. LGBTQ students experience bullying and harassment, as well as engage in risk behaviors and contemplate suicide, more than their straight peers. We need comprehensive and fully funded bullying prevention programs in each and every school that address bias and behavior change. Schools must allow transgender students to use the facilities and participate in activities according to their gender identity.

• Build and fully resource Community Schools. This is more than an investment in students and schools -- it’s an investment in our communities. Community Schools coordinate efforts among teachers, families, service providers, and community members to provide education, childcare, healthcare, and other wraparound services that are integral to student and family success. Community School models in New Mexico, such as Atrisco Heritage, have shown reductions in chronic absenteeism and increases in student engagement. 

• Stop taxpayer funded private school vouchers. Trump and Education Secretary DeVos have proposed billions in cuts to public schools and the creation of nationwide private school voucher program. I am adamantly opposed to taxpayer funded private school vouchers, and agree with AFT President Randi Weingarten when she said they are the “only slightly more polite cousins of segregation.” Private school vouchers are rooted in racial school segregation, and further undermine the ability of our most vulnerable to receive equitable education.

For the same reason, the NAACP in October 2016 called for a moratorium on charter school expansion. I agree that charter schools should not be allowed to expand until:
1) they are subject to the same accountability and transparency as public schools;
2) public funds are not diverted to charter schools at the expense of public schools;
3) biased and targeted expulsions and suspensions stop; and
4) there is no longer de facto segregation of the highest performing students from those who are aspirational and whose potential may not yet have been realized.

• Ensure that Indian reservation schools and military students don’t lose out on Impact Aid money. I adamantly oppose any cuts to this federal money that supports students, and I oppose any measures to spend the funding in any methods other than what the funding is meant for.

• Champion career and technical education. We must provide the breadth of opportunities for our students to achieve success. Career and technical education programs produce higher graduation rates than purely academic programs, and they boost our economy with highly skilled workers in good paying jobs. The infrastructure of our country depends on highly skilled technical workers, and investing in their education is an investment in economic stability and growth.

• Implement comprehensive sex education that de-stigmatizes, promotes consent, and reflects the many genders, sexualities, and relationships that exist in the world. Sexual health is a critical factor for the health, wellbeing, and success of students, and shouldn’t come with fear or shame, but respect and acceptance. We all lead different lives, and we all have a place in our society.

• Ensure Education Assistants, cafeteria workers, bus drivers, administrative staff, and other classified education workers are paid a living wage. Every educational worker contributes to the success of students, and our schools do not function without the classified workforce. Even with a $15 per hour wage, most classified workers would make less than $22,000 per year -- which is unacceptable. Federal Title II funds could help our classified educational workers -- especially EAs -- advance in their professional careers.

• Set our students up for success by reducing class sizes and standardized testing. We know individualized attention improves student outcomes, so we must hold state leaders accountable to statutory requirements on class size. Standardized testing is not an accurate indicator of a student’s potential, and does not assess a student’s ability to think critically in the world. Let’s stop wasting student’s time and taxpayer resources on things like standardized testing that serve more as political bargaining chips than effective educational tools.

We must stop third grade reading retention. Evidence shows it is no more effective than other interventions such as summer school and reduced class sizes. It’s important we do not hinder the ability of students to progress in their academic lives, and instead provide the resources and tools to support them in their journey.

I also support moving away from the A-F grading system, and instead using multiple indicators and qualitative evaluation to assess student ability. The charge of our education system must be to build critical thinking skills, which cannot be measured in letter grades.

• Set our educators up for success by treating them with respect. This includes maintaining appropriate class sizes and reducing standardized testing time so that our teachers can teach. Educator pay must absolutely be increased, and I support tiered compensation plans based on experience and credentials. We must also ensure our teacher evaluation systems center teachers -- not test scores -- and take into account things like experience, degrees, and additional responsibilities. 

• I will continue to be a champion for Teachers’ Unions. Teachers are one of our world’s most valuable professions, and our unions work to protect their working conditions, their right to organize, and their seat at negotiation tables. 

Finally, when it comes to our education system, we must turn to the experts. Corporate CEOs with no teaching experience have no business leading our nation’s or state’s education system. I will always advocate for our most experienced educators and education professionals to be at the center of education policy- and decision-making.

I Support Making College Free and Debt Free

I support public colleges and universities being tuition free, and imposing a tax on Wall Street speculators to make it financially viable. The U.S. government is making billions off the backs of college students through student loan programs with high interest rates that can’t be refinanced. I agree with Senator Bernie Sanders that this is morally wrong and bad economics for our country to have future generations saddled with overwhelming debt. I also support the immediate implementation of:

  • Free tuition for students and families with annual incomes up to $125,000 per year;
  • Higher education institutions covering 100% of expenses for low-income students, and allowing need based financial aid to cover things like books and room and board;
  • Reduction of student loan rates to below 2.5%, and the ability to refinance current student loans at this rate; and
  • Major expansion of work study programs to give college students on-the-job experience they need post graduation.

Last, I am appalled by Trump’s recently announced “review” of college and university affirmative action policies to assess discrimination against whites. This is racist bigotry and demonstrates a continued and staggering ignorance about our nation’s history of racist oppression and the measures we must take to mitigate it. I support affirmative action because we still experience disparate outcomes in education based on race; and, I agree with the 2016 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Fisher v. University of Texas that upheld affirmative action policies, and said: “Student body diversity promotes learning outcomes, and better prepares students for an increasingly diverse workforce and society.”

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Our education system holds incredible power over our nation’s ability to thrive in all aspects of life. From infancy to bachelor's degrees and beyond, we have the responsibility to give our students, parents, educators, and community members the very best we have to offer; but, that’s not our reality, and the state of distrust and poor outcomes in which New Mexico’s education system is today, exemplifies our failure to do and give our very best.

In Congress, I will fight for education that bridges the opportunity gap in order to help close the achievement gap, and prioritize models that sustain and enrich whole people and communities. We have a lot of ground to make up, especially for our most vulnerable and marginalized students and families, and I am prepared to make decisions that improve their quality of education and lives. I am also prepared to fight back against the policies of the President and Secretary DeVos that create more inequity, guarantee poor outcomes, and aim to further destabilize our public education infrastructure.

We owe it to our students, teachers, and communities to do better. We have choices to make when it comes to how we allocate our resources and build our schools, and I will always choose the side that gives every student -- especially marginalized students -- the utmost opportunity to succeed. I will always choose the side that honors and uplifts educators as the everyday heroes that they are. I’m running for Congress, because I believe we can build and grow a world class education system for New Mexico and for our nation, and I invite you to join me and be a part of it.

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