In a world of constant disagreement, most of us can agree that division in our country is at a fever pitch. The views from national media on public charter schools are no exception. I’m writing to tell you a different story. Our story can serve as a model for the rest of the county. In our story, New Mexico families and a bipartisan and politically diverse set of state legislators are supporting public charter schools when agreement can be scarce. Where other states and the national conversations around public charter schools pit opposing sides in an “us vs. them” debate, in New Mexico, public charter schools receive ample bipartisan support.
In fact, New Mexico has a long history of bipartisan charter school support. That’s because our legislators are connected to their communities in a way they aren’t in other places. It’s more common for our legislators to know parents in their community and converse with them. They know that our families, even when they choose not to attend a public charter school, appreciate having public school options that empower them to find the right educational fit for their kids, free of charge. A pre-pandemic poll of families in Bernalillo county found that 77% of families believe that charter schools improve education in their community and 75% want more charter school options.
Just this past legislative session, a new law took a step forward in providing public charter schools more facility funding and options. The House and Senate unanimously passed, and the governor signed, the measure to increase spending on charter school facilities and create a new loan fund for permanent charter school facilities. The bill was sponsored by a bipartisan cohort of legislators: Sen. Siah Correa Hemphill, D-Silver City; Rep. Cathrynn Brown, R-Carlsbad; Rep. Meredith Dixon, D-Albuquerque; Rep. Joy Garratt, D-Albuquerque and Rep. Joshua Hernandez, R-Rio Rancho. While their names weren’t on the bill, Sens. Jerry Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuqeurque; Crystal Diamond, R-Elephant Butte; Michael Padilla, D-Albuquerque; and Greg Baca, R-Belen, played a huge part in getting the bill across the finish line. That’s right, Democrats and Republicans, rural and urban legislators working together to make education better for all kids.
I know this is not always the case. There will always be people who don’t agree with you or your cause. It was only three years ago that forces in Santa Fe were doing everything in their power to shut down public charter schools. After a bitter fight, that didn’t happen.
New Mexico has something to offer our country at large: an exemplar. When our elected officials listen to their communities, they find that charter schools just aren’t that divisive. Parents want a quality school option where they know their children will learn and be safe. They want their schools to be engaging for their kids. And they know that no one school could possibly serve the needs of every single student. That’s why having high-quality choices, and particularly those that are free and open to all, are valuable to our families. In New Mexico, our legislators listen to and take action to fulfill to the needs of families.