N.M. Bill Seeks to Curb Private Companies’ Role in Schools

Managing Editor

Legislation has emerged in New Mexico that would bar the state, individual charter schools, and traditional public schools and districts from contracting with private entities to manage or oversee a school’s operations.

The measure, introduced by state Rep. Mimi Stewart, an Albuquerque Democrat, comes in the wake of state secretary-designate of education Hanna Skandera’s decision to overrule a state panel and allow a for-profit online provider, Connections Academy, to open a virtual school in the state.

Stewart, at an event earlier this month, voiced frustration with that decision, which in her view ran afoul of a New Mexico state law meant to ensure that “we are not going to cede our schools to for-profit industries.”

Members of New Mexico’s elected public education commission rejected Connections Academy’s application last year, citing doubts about whether state law allowed the virtual school, among other concerns. But Skandera overruled that decision, saying that department of education staff members, and a separate legal opinion, supported the school’s case.

Stewart disagrees. Her bill would block “private entities” from directly running public schools. The legislator, at the event earlier this month, also seemed to quarrel with the overall philosophy espoused by some virtual education providers, whose operations, she argued, leave students without interpersonal and other skills necessary to succeed as adults.

Businesses want students who can “collaborate with each other, who work together in groups,” and follow the protocol of the workplace, she said. “All of those [skills], you do not learn by sitting in front of a computer.”

Her legislation, House Bill 460, states that traditional public schools must remain under the “administrative control and management” of local school boards, that charters will be overseen by governing boards, and that neither type of school can “contract with a private entity to manage or administer a public school or school district or its educational program.”

In addition, the measure also says that members of charter governing boards in New Mexico must be state residents&dmash;an apparent effort to limit the sway that out-of-state company officials or others without local connections might have over those schools.

[UPDATE: A spokesman for the state department of education, Larry Behrens, said in a statement to Education Week that it was “terribly unfortunate some members of the legislature want to make sure our children and their parents do not have education options.”

“It may be easy for some in Albuquerque to discount the opportunity of virtual learning,” Behrens added. “However, we believe students, particularly in rural areas, should have more options. We don’t believe politics is a good enough reason to deny our children a good education.”]

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