Session can’t take on state’s laundry list

An energized Gov. Susana Martinez laid out her priorities for the state of New Mexico last week, summing them up like this: education, jobs and cooperation.

It was a less combative Martinez than in past States of the State — a governing official rather than a politician, probably the image she wants going into a re-election year.

Yet, she is not backing down from several signature issues. Martinez still wants a law denying driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants. She calls her newest proposal a “compromise,” because it would allow the “Dreamers” (young people brought here illegally as children or babies) to drive. Even with a more conservative House, this bill should die in the Senate — and quickly, so we don’t waste time.

Education took up much of the speech — with Martinez defending her teacher evaluation programs. Those are being done by administrative rule because legislators would not back her vision of measuring teacher performance. Teachers, administrators and even parents are finding fault with a system they believe relies too much on testing. But Martinez countered those criticisms by pointing to increases in the state’s graduation rate and elementary school reading scores. She said, though, there is more to do — returning once again to the idea that requiring the retention of third-graders with reading problems is the cure-all to educational woes.

We urge the governor to abandon this top-down reform and let districts decide how to handle retention. Parents should not have a veto over their children being held back, but neither should the state mandate what individual teachers need to do.

With proper focus on literacy, the discussion about retention will die anyway. Fights over mandatory retention will take energy away from other, more effective ways to improve educational performance.

As with most States of the State, the speech offered a laundry list of programs and initiatives: something to help veterans become firefighters, a statewide nursing curriculum to increase health care access, increased spending on water infrastructure and so much more.

The agenda is long, too much to pack in a 30-day session — especially one in which legislators also must deal with big questions about the care of children and the mentally ill in this state.

Much remains to do, in other words, not just in the area of passing laws but in finding out how — or if — the government is working properly. Let’s get to it.

— The Santa Fe New Mexican