New Mexico’s ‘New Beginning’ Includes Vouchers

Published March 1, 2001

“I’m sure you’re all familiar with the old saying that the definition of insanity is continuing to do things the way you’ve always done them but expecting a different result. That’s what I think has been going on in education for decades. So, it’s time to make some changes.”
New Mexico Governor Gary E. Johnson
State of the State Speech, January 16, 2001

School vouchers were one of four education reform measures New Mexico Governor Gary E. Johnson proposed in his “New Beginning” State of the State Speech on January 16, the others being teacher merit pay, making it easier to establish charter schools, and making the superintendent of schools a cabinet position.

Johnson’s goal: “To dramatically improve education in New Mexico.”

Johnson’s problem: A Democrat-controlled state legislature that has shown little enthusiasm for any of his education proposals.

In his six years as governor, Johnson has substantially increased spending on public schools, an effort that has resulted in smaller class sizes, higher teacher pay, charter schools, increased capital outlays, full-day kindergarten, and cash incentives for higher-performing schools. But despite all this increased spending, student achievement in the Land of Enchantment has improved little.

That’s why the GOP governor is skeptical of claims that public schools would improve if only lawmakers again would give them more money. That would be doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting a different result, he said.

Johnson’s proposal is for a universal voucher program, phased in over four years with lower-income students eligible first. The voucher amount would be 80 percent of the district’s per-pupil funding, which ranges from $6,053 in the Albuquerque school district to $15,417 in the Mosquero school district. The other 20 percent of the funding would remain with the district, thus increasing the average per-pupil funding. The average voucher would be valued at $5,200.

Not only would his voucher program make it easier for parents to send their children to the school of their choice, explained Johnson, it also would give schools a strong incentive to improve their academic achievement–an important factor for parents choosing schools.

Academic achievement has become a major issue with New Mexico parents after new state tests last year revealed the state has 311 schools where less than 50 percent of the students are proficient at grade level. Those schools enroll 125,500 students, almost 40 percent of the state’s 324,500 public school students.

The test results also revealed that the percentage of students who are proficient at grade level falls alarmingly the longer students are in school. While 51.3 percent of third-grade students are proficient at grade level, only 34.1 percent of ninth-grade students are proficient at grade level.

According to press reports, Johnson has said he would agree to a pilot voucher program that targeted just the children in the 311 worse schools.

For more information . . .

on New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson’s “New Beginning” education reform proposals, use PolicyBot, The Heartland Institute’s free online research service, to request the documents in Adobe Acrobat’s PDF format. Point your browser to and click on PolicyBot. Search for document #2177412.