PRESS RELEASE - March 1, 2004
Office of The Governor
Capitol Bldg., 4th Floor
Santa Fe, NM 87503

Pahl Shipley
(505) 476-2202

Governor Bill Richardson Signs Major Education Bills

New Mexico Has First Secretary of Education
Laws also authorize new Public Education Department, crackdown
on truancy

ALBUQUERQUE- Governor Bill Richardson today signed a number of bills, passed during the 2004 legislative session, relating to education and education reform in New Mexico. The Governor signed legislation authorizing the state's first ever Secretary of Education and the new Public Education Department, as well as laws that crackdown on
truants and their parents, and create a new system regarding professional development and salaries for educational assistants.

Here are the Governor’s prepared remarks from the signing, which took place at Albuquerque High School:

“This is a defining moment for New Mexico, and for our educational system.

Today I will sign six bills to help continue the progress we’ve made improving our public schools and increasing the performance and success of our students. We are also here to officially recognize the New Mexico Public Education Department, and our new Secretary of Education Veronica Garcia. I’d like Secretary Garcia, and the sponsor of the Public Education Department Act, Representative Mimi Stewart, and Representative Rick Miera, a tireless advocate for education and our children, to join me.

Today marks the culmination of an intense effort that began with a promise I made during the campaign. I made a commitment to create a Cabinet-level education department, with a Secretary of Education. It is hard to believe that the number one priority of New Mexico families- education- did not have a place at the Cabinet table. In
last September’s special election, New Mexicans overwhelmingly agreed with me, approving the constitutional amendment to make these changes.

This is also an exciting beginning. My signature on this bill today marks the start of a new era for public education in New Mexico:

• An era where we’ll focus on the classroom, cut the bureaucracies, and require more accountability,
• An era where we’ll encourage and support professional development for teachers and educational employees, and pay them fair and competitive wages,
• An era where we’ll properly fund our schools. Voters also approved another constitutional amendment in September that allows us to direct more money from our permanent fund to pay for education reform in New Mexico,
• An era where families will be encouraged to support and participate directly in the educational process, increasing the chances for student success, and
• An era of public-private partnerships that will help us educate the workforce of the future. A strong educational system is the best economic development tool we have.

House Bill 96 also clearly defines the role of the Public Education Commission, which will have significant and meaningful advisory input into the operations of the Secretary and the public education system throughout the state. The commission will play a key role in making sure the voices of our rural districts are heard- Let me be clear, districts in our rural communities will not be forgotten.

Now, please join me in congratulating New Mexico’s first Secretary of Education, Dr. Veronica Garcia.

I’m now going to detail the five other bills I’ll be signing today, and as I do, I will ask the sponsors to join me.

Truancy Bill
I am pleased to be able to sign House Bill 106, sponsored by Representative Tom Swisstack.

House Bill 106 is a tough law aimed at reducing truancy, one of the most serious problems our schools face today. Truant students are often most at risk of dropping out altogether. This bill puts more on the line for truant students and their parents. It gives school officials, law enforcement, and the courts the tools to address this problem, while
holding parents accountable in the most extreme cases. Importantly, the bill also provides for early intervention before the absences become frequent.

• Children’s courts can suspend the driver’s license of a student who has 10 or more unexcused absences in a school year.
• If the absences are the fault of the parents, they can face criminal charges, including stiff fines and the possibility of jail time.

This is a no-nonsense law, designed to tackle a major problem head-on. Our kids need to stay in school- period.

I’d like to thank Representative Swisstack for his work on this bill- he is a tireless advocate for children, families, and education.

Educational Assistant Licensing and Salaries

Today I’ll also be signing House Bill 304, sponsored by Representative Rick Miera, that addresses one of the serious problems with the federal government’s requirements under the No Child Left Behind Act. Representative Miera, please join me.

The federal government requires educational assistants - sometimes referred to as teachers’ aides - to improve their education. In fact, if their education doesn’t improve before January 8, 2006, they will not be able to assist in the public schools. But after they pass a test, take college courses or attain a two-year college degree or more, their
salaries still may have not improved.

Under this legislation, the Secretary of Education will establish a minimum salary throughout the state for educational assistants. These employees are vital to the success of our educational system, particularly when it comes to special education. They also work in the arts, the core curricula, and in many other areas. Not only do we need to respond to help meet the requirements of No Child Left Behind, we should recognize the valuable work of Educational Assistants, and pay them accordingly. This bill starts that process.

High School Graduation Next Step Program

Next, I’ll be signing House Bill 522, sponsored by Representative Sheryl Williams Stapleton, which requires every student in New Mexico to, each year, prepare a “Next- Step” plan.

Each year from the time they’re in 8th grade through their senior year, students will work with their teachers and administration to create a road map to ensure they stay on track for graduation. The program will also require the students to plan for graduation, with an emphasis on encouraging them to continue on to college.

Successful businesses and individuals create action plans, this will encourage organization and preparation in students to help them achieve success through graduation and continuing education.

Bilingual Education Program Accountability

I will also be signing Senate bill 471, sponsored by Senator Leonard Tsosie, which makes clear our promise that all students in New Mexico will have an equal opportunity to a quality education.

With this bill, for the first time, the language a student inherits from his or her family is included as part of the state’s bilingual education program, including Native American students or students whose first language is not English and who are unable to speak, read, write and understand English. Teachers will receive specialized training to help students learn and succeed in school. Districts will work diligently to identify students who qualify for the program, and districts will be held accountable for students’ academic success and proficiency in two languages.

Change Writing Test for Certain Grades

Finally today, I’ll be signing Senate Bill 138, that streamlines the testing of students on their writing ability. The bill was sponsored by Senator Cynthia Nava, who could not be here today.

Beginning in the 2005-06 school year, students in grades three to nine will take just one test, which is a more comprehensive way to measure their ability.

As a result of this legislation, teachers will be able to spend more time teaching students the skills essential to reading, writing and listening. And they will be able to use the results from the assessments to guide their instruction. “