Here’s a new motto the New Mexico Legislature is trying on for size: When the going gets tough, the not-so-tough dump it on the state Constitution.
How else to explain Senate Joint Resolution 2 (and House Joint Resolution 7), which would ask voters to approve a constitutional amendment limiting public school class sizes?
It’s because the Legislature has not been able to either statutorily reject/amend the administrative code that limits class sizes or refuse to allow class-size waivers.
Instead, lawmakers have approved a waiver of the waivers because they are only supposed to be allowed two years running.
In practice, N.M.’s class-size limits are ignored with the administration’s and Roundhouse’s blessing.
Sponsor Sen. Tim Keller, D-Albuquerque, says “the idea obviously is if (class-size caps) are in the Constitution, we have to do it. We can’t waive our way out of that.”
The broader idea is that members of the Legislature can’t bring themselves to do the jobs the public elected them to. As Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, says in support of the amendment, the Legislature has a pesky habit of suspending rules to save money.
But it’s a terrible idea to turn a document intended to contain broad guiding principles of government into a detail-oriented micromanaging laundry list.
In addition to how many students can be in a kindergarten class, why not have the Constitution mandate spay-and-neuter for pets? Xeriscaping and water conservation? The brightness of electronic signs?
That way all the hard decisions would be put to the voters at large on Election Day.
Senate Minority Leader Stuart Ingle, R-Portales, points out lawmakers are entrusted to balance funding with wants and needs by making those hard choices. “To do this in the Constitution like this and to negate the things we are sent up here for and are supposed to answer for, I just don’t want to do that.”
New Mexicans shouldn’t, either.
Smaller classes would be expensive — an estimated $204 million a year for infrastructure and $63 million annually for operations. It is lawmakers’ job to have the hard discussions to determine what priority to put on smaller classes and to make the necessary financial commitment.
That might mean the state can’t dump unlimited money into Medicaid, avoid raising taxes in a terrible economy or continue to pump money into public employee pensions the state can’t afford and which are not sustainable.
Bear in mind, some argue the Constitution even prevents us from bringing fiscal sanity to PERA and ERB.
It’s also important to note that when it comes to student achievement, smaller class sizes give teachers more opportunity to monitor and mentor but are not a simple solution that substitutes for other vital student-based education and accountability reforms, including K-3 reading intervention/retention and teacher evaluations tied to student performance.
Keller says a constitutional amendment would take politics out of class size and pressure lawmakers to fund education adequately.
Better that they should make the hard decisions about education the voters elected them to make instead of hiding behind an inappropriately specific Constitution.
— Albuquerque Journal