One good way to advance New Mexico beyond its usual last-place national standing in education would be to open the schools again, says Republican state Sen. Craig Brandt, who served on the Rio Rancho Public Schools Board of Education before he won his legislature seat in November 2012.
Brandt’s remarks came during Thursday evening’s virtual local legislators session, sponsored by the Observer and the Rio Rancho Regional Chamber of Commerce.
Rookie Rep. Josh Hernandez agreed, saying, “Our priority needs to be to get our kids back in the classroom,” but do it safely.
Brandt said he was still seeking a “legitimate answer for shutting down schools,” and that children were less susceptible to the virus.
But, he said, the state Public Education Department told schools to shut down to protect teachers and staff, so, when it comes to vaccinating against COVID-19, “Put teachers and school staff at the front of the line” and “open the schools in three weeks.”
Sen. Benny Shendo, a Democrat representing Jemez Pueblo and part of Rio Rancho, said teachers on the pueblo were soon to be vaccinated, anticipating a quick return to classrooms.
Brandt wasn’t sure how the state’s standing in education could be improved with the difficulties in online learning many are experiencing. And with so many of the state’s children residing in rural areas, improved broadband access is necessary for the online platforms.
“We need to quit playing games with education in this state,” he said, “and allow parents to have a greater choice in their children’s education.”
Brandt, referring to his own struggles in high school and then in the Air Force, said he hadn’t been ready to attend college — and many high-schoolers today need opportunities to find jobs quicker, which career technical education can offer.
“Not everything can be done virtually,” he said, referring to pouring concrete, ventilation-systems work, building homes and plumbing.
“We need to help where we can, get people cross-trained in jobs they can do,” he said, and most of those jobs don’t require four years of college and at least $100,000 of debt.
Rep. Daymon Ely, a Democrat who lives in Corrales, expressed his fondness for charter schools, which — when regulated — can be more creative in meeting the needs of their students than public schools, he said.
Shendo, who started his Senate stint in 2013, said he was proud of having founded his pueblo’s first charter school and Jemez now has two.
Noting the large numbers of New Mexico-educated folks leaving the state for jobs, Shendo said it was important to invest in the state’s best assets and “small business is the backbone,” but quality of life is also important. Thus, growing the workforce, relating to education, is very important and can help keep home-grown learners in New Mexico.
“Early childhood (education) is likely to pass in both chambers,” Ely said, adding it helps those 3- and 4-year-olds learn to work well with others and build character, which also helps those kids’ parents and later their own children.
But, Brandt queried, “How do you do pre-K on a computer?”
Shendo had an observation from his experience: Originally only versed in his people’s Towa language, he later learned English. He had seen others like him had tended to go on further in education, while Native Americans who learned only English struggled.
Brandt also said he’d bring his “shooting threat” bill. Before the 2020 legislative session, He told the Observer, “It’s not a crime in this state to threaten shooting up a school.”
Brandt wants to see that change, as a deterrent, and to mete out penalties.