In the November 5 unveiling of his sweeping education reform agenda–calling for more charter schools, greater accountability for results, and school choice for every child–New Mexico Governor Gary E. Johnson declared, “We must do this for the children’s sake.” Johnson’s plan, which will be presented to the legislature in January, is based on four principles: accountability for results, competition, rewards for improvement, and adequate funding. It also includes scholarships valid at public, private, and religious schools.
“I want better schools in every neighborhood,” said Johnson, who added, “If your school isn’t working for your child, you should have the choice of going to another one.”
For many New Mexico families, public schools are not working. The state ranks 35th highest in the nation in dropout rates for students aged 16 to 19. In 1994 and 1996 nationwide tests, New Mexico ranked in the bottom 20 percent in science and reading proficiency, and in the bottom 15 percent in mathematics. And since 1992, incidents of violence and vandalism have increased by 121 percent on school campuses.
Under Johnson’s plan, parents would be empowered to choose the schools their children attend, and the ensuing competition for students would spur school improvements throughout the state. Empowered to take their business elsewhere, parents would have the authority of consumers to hold schools accountable for the quality of education delivered to their children.
In addition, the state would hold schools and teachers accountable for results by testing every child in every school in every grade every year, with rewards for schools and teachers who show outstanding results. Johnson’s proposal would also increase public school funding, committing to spend 50 percent of the state’s General Fund on education within five years.
Over the next two months, Johnson and his Cabinet Secretary Heather Wilson of the Children, Youth and Families Department will hold town hall meetings and forums statewide to get input on the reform plan.
“Education continues to be my top priority, and it will be the central issue for the 1998 legislative session,” Johnson said.
George A. Clowes is managing editor of School Reform News. His email address is [email protected].