Commentary: Like all New Mexicans, we at the Rio Grande Foundation want to see an improved K-12 system in place. I have two daughters in traditional public school. While concerned about the quick turnover at the top of the PED, we are optimistic about the hiring of Dr. Ryan Stewart.
Stewart comes to us from the Philadelphia area where he worked with an education reform organization called Partners in School Innovation. According to news reports he is relatively young (38) but has impeccable credentials (degrees from Stanford and Harvard).
The Albuquerque Journal reports that he has a 9 year old son. This is notably mainly because the son attends a “private Quaker school” in Philadelphia. In other words, Stewart and his family are financially in a position to pursue his own form of “school choice.” His “choice” is one that would be beyond the financial capability of most New Mexicans. The Rio Grande Foundation found three different Quaker schools in Philadelphia ranging in annual tuition from $16,000 to $30,000.
We don’t begrudge him the ability to make the best decision for his child, but it is important that a child’s access to a quality education not be determined by parental incomes or the ability to move into a wealthy school district. Thus, we have long advocated for and supported choice whether that is in the form of charters, private, home, virtual, or other forms of schooling. And, according to new polling data from the University of Chicago, school choice is especially popular with African-Americans and Hispanics.
Unfortunately, “choice” is not so popular for many who have direct stake in the status quo. This attitude is especially prevalent among the unions who so strongly support his boss, Gov. Lujan-Grisham. They don’t want competition. They advocate for ever more money to be poured into the same broken education system that has proven so difficult to turn around.
Of course, the unions and others fail to acknowledge that according to the most recent US Census Bureau data, New Mexico spends more than any of our neighbors on K-12 education, but our results are worse. That data does not include the recent legislative session during which more money was been poured into the system and the previous administration’s accountability regime were been pushed aside.
New Mexico’s school choice options primarily consist of publicly-funded charter schools which faced the threat of a moratorium from Democrats in the Legislature in 2019 and home schooling which can be undertaken by anyone with the time and wherewithal to manage a child’s education at home.
New Mexico can and should offer private school choice options, especially tax credits and other options. These programs could specifically be targeted to assisting children from needy families or who go to school at low performing schools. In the recent past such legislation has been put forth on a non-partisan basis, but those efforts have consistently and stridently been opposed by the unions and thus killed.
We look forward to Dr. Stewart getting started in New Mexico. We know our education remains deeply challenged and that it is in need of aggressive and courageous leadership. With the recent influx of new spending, the argument that spending is“inadequate” is not going to cut it. New Mexicans expect improved results.
Welcome Dr. Stewart and good luck, my daughters and thousands of New Mexico children are counting on you!
Paul Gessing is the President of New Mexico’s Rio Grande Foundation. The Rio Grande Foundation is an independent, non-partisan, tax-exempt research and educational organization dedicated to promoting prosperity for New Mexico based on principles of limited government, economic freedom and individual responsibility.