New Mexico students are getting left behind

In this week's Intelligencer, New Mexico's education system continues to fail our kids, CYFD might be fudging key numbers, the unintended costs of the misguided civil rights law, and the state's $18 billion state worker pension fund draws scrutiny.

The Intelligencer is a weekly newsletter that gives you a quick overview of La Politica across New Mexico and the U.S., covering topics such as policy, current events, the political landscape, and tech.

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Dax Contreras
Executive Director, Hispanos Unidos


1. New Mexico's students are far behind in learning, and the coronavirus pandemic made things worse


What's happening: According to a recently released report by the state's Legislative Finance Committee (LFC), students have lost 10 to 60 days of instruction due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. At-risk students were already more than half a year behind before the pandemic hit.

To make matters worse: The report also notes that teachers and school districts weren't utilizing available resources to provide students with extra help, comments which predicatively put the teacher's union on the defensive.

What they're saying: “Educators and school districts have to deal with real children and not numbers, test score numbers, and data dumps," said Mary Parr-Sanchez, president of the New Mexico National Education Association.

2. Governor Lujan Grisham refuses to comment on child abuse scandal in cabinet department


Details: Child abuse deaths doubled from fiscal year 2020, according to the Legislative Finance Committee, and CFYD gave possibly fraudulent stats to hide the truth. The Grisham administration has not responded to the findings.

Legislators on the interim Courts, Correction and Justice Committee had raised concerns that disgraced MLG appointee, Brian Blalock, gave false statistics during a hearing in July when he claimed that the child maltreatment rates in New Mexico were below national averages. This prompted the LFC to review the numbers and found that, instead, the real rates were nearly twice the average from 2015 to 2019.

Why it matters: The long and dark history of CYFD is mostly obscure – widely known to those in the bureaucracy and in the political background yet an almost untold story to the general public — and is being exposed more and more each day. With thousands of children at the mercy of department officials, lives are literally at stake.

What’s next: The LFC’s memo recommends several “next steps” for CYFD to address, recommending the creation of an ombudsman role within the agency, among other basic and vague reforms such as placing “a heavier focus on evidence-based prevention and early intervention resources.” There has also been a severe lack of reporting to the public. For example, Child Fatality Review Board (CFRB) have not released a report since 2015. Suddenly, the CFRB is now planning to issue a report on the causes of child deaths in the state by the end of the year.

3. Counties might not be able to cover civil rights claims


The situation: There is an insurance pool that covers almost all the counties in the state that offers insurance for civil rights violations for up to $2 million for each violation. The New Mexico Association of Counties has an insurance provider for claims for more than this cap – but it will not cover claims filed under the recently passed HB4, the Civil Rights Act. Although this law limits claims to $2 million per person, if more than one individual files a claim related to the same incident, the payout could ultimately be tens of millions of dollars – money that counties simply might not have.

Why it matters: This situation has counties scrambling for extra insurance known as “reinsurance” because without it, counties might need increase property taxes to cover civil rights claims. New Mexico Association of Counties executive director Steve Kopelman told lawmakers during a hearing that people in the counties could face “catastrophic loss when there’s no insurance” and that NMAC have seen five claims so far this year.

The big picture: While Democrat politicians, including House Floor Leader Javier Martinez, claim the new law encourages government accountability – even though law abiding taxpayers would still ultimately be the ones paying the price for the misdeeds committed by government officials. And let’s not forget that civil rights lawyers such as House Speaker Brian Egolf will be taking a considerable slice of these payouts.

4. New Mexico's state worker pension fund is struggling for stability


Details: New Mexico’s $18 billion state worker pension fund is struggling for stability with three top-level staffers resigning and an executive director search was recently relaunched.

Why it matters: While temporary replacements have been named, the situation has caught the attention of some lawmakers. The executive director, chief investment officer and general counsel for the Public Employees Retirement Association have all stepped down this year. New Mexico’s pension fund that covers state workers, police officers and judges had more than 47,000 active members and paid retirement benefits to roughly 42,700 retirees during the budget year that ended in June. 

What they're saying: “They need to hire a director – this is a critical time when the markets are in good shape,” said Sen. George Muñoz, a Gallup Democrat who chairs the Senate Finance Committee. “Why that has taken almost a year is amazing to me.”

What's next: Legislative changes have been submitted in recent years to overhaul the 12-member PERA board but they have ultimately fallen short of approval. New Mexico pension funds continue to face long-term solvency concerns over the last decade.