What’s in the moonshot for public ed?
There are sweeping changes afoot in New Mexico, especially in public education. The discourse keeps circling back to the “moonshot” — and it’s worth clarifying what that language means.
As in any rocket-bound journey, there are many, many different pieces of equipment that have to work together as we speed toward our destination: Improved child well-being and academic achievement for all children in New Mexico.
A key difference in this moment as compared to efforts in the recent past: Various departments across state government are now committed to working together to identify the needs, inventory the assets and move forward with a common vision. The Public Education Department; the Higher Education Department; the Children, Youth and Families Department; and the Department of Workforce Solutions, as well as our agencies focused on Native American affairs and human services, are in continual conversation with one another about how we can serve New Mexicans throughout their lives in a cohesive way. With regular meetings and coordinated efforts, there is a sense of control in mission control, finally.
But in order for this mission to be successful, we need to establish the foundation. This is early childhood. This is a key investment in our population on the front end. Tens of millions of dollars, as requested in the governor’s budget, will bring us closer and closer to universal pre-kindergarten. In addition, the creation of the Early Childhood Education and Care Department, legislation for which recently passed the state Senate with broad bipartisan support, will provide a foundation for families to receive services and education for children from birth to age 5. The consolidation of home visiting programs, access to healthcare services, and education services under one roof will streamline the delivery system of services to our children.
So, on this moonshot mission, what’s our payload? What are we delivering? The Public Education Department budget provides nearly $170 million for pay raises for educators. In addition to tiered raises, we will enact a 6% pay raise for all school employees, because we recognize that the janitor, the nurse, the ancillary staff and everyone in the system needs and deserves support. The budget also includes funding for the increase in the at-risk index, which means $113 million will be sent to districts to serve the students who need additional support. Students and districts will also have the opportunity to engage in extended learning by expanding K-5 Plus.
Increased funding for Native American education and multicultural/bilingual education will boost services and programming. And we’re asking the Senate to provide additional funds for Community Schools, Academic Engagement, Intervention Support, and an Indigenous Education Initiative to provide mechanisms for schools to refine and redesign how best to serve students.
My department will be expected to track funding, success and impact. The idea of reciprocal accountability is part of the new service orientation of the department. Districts, schools, educators and students will continue to meet the high standards we’ve set at all grade levels in all subject areas. Our agency will be held responsible for providing the schools with the support and resources needed for the schools to get where they need to go.
More than anything else, I think, the moonshot’s success depends on the will of the people. And I think we all agree: This is the investment we need to make, and this is the moment we must make it. It will take time, money and partnerships. It took NASA many years to reach the moon; we’re building our rocket, and we need all New Mexicans to be part of the mission. As we build out what the new assessments will be, how educators will be evaluated and how to identify schools in need of support, we will be looking for input and partnerships. I am asking you to join our mission as we strategically, responsibly and boldly invest in programs and schools to improve child well-being and academic achievement for all New Mexico children.
Karen Trujillo is cabinet secretary of the New Mexico Public Education Department.