By MILAN SIMONICH
New Mexico moved a step closer Wednesday to halting the growth of charter schools.
The House Education Committee voted 10-3 for a bill that would place a moratorium on new charter schools from June 14 of this year until Jan. 1, 2022.
Freshman Rep. Jack Chatfield, R-Mosquero, joined the Democrats on the committee in voting for the moratorium. The proposal, House Bill 434, would not cap enrollment at New Mexico’s 96 charter schools, nor would it seek to close any of them. They have a collective enrollment of more than 26,000.
But the lobbyist for the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce, several parents and charter school employees testified against the bill. They said it would limit options and opportunities for students and families.
“I’m asking you not to attack my freedom as a parent,” said Bruce Langston, president of the board at Mission Achievement and Success Charter School in Albuquerque.
Rep. Christine Trujillo, a Democrat from Albuquerque who is the primary sponsor of the bill, said the timing is right to stop the growth of charter schools so they can be assessed.
One issue, she said, is that charters can receive proportionally more money than traditional public schools through a provision in the state funding formula. A second consideration is that a state District Court judge has ruled the Legislature has not adequately funded public schools, so a pause in funding new charters is justified, Trujillo said.
Teachers unions and organizations representing public school administrators were among those who testified for the bill.
Stan Rounds, executive director of an advocacy group for school administrators, said he supports the moratorium so charter schools can be evaluated.
“It’s tapping the brakes for a minute,” Rounds said, a comment that several people imitated as they spoke in favor of the moratorium.
Rep. Rebecca Dow, R-Truth or Consequences, argued at length against the bill, then tried but failed to block it.
Dow said a higher percentage of charter schools have received grades of A’s and B’s from the Public Education Department than have traditional public schools. She also said the moratorium was unnecessary because only perhaps two charter schools are added annually after the state evaluates more than a dozen applications.
Records compiled by the Public Education Department show 15 new state-authorized charter schools were approved in the last six years. Thirty state charter schools were authorized in the preceding six years.
The department also said nearly all state charter schools have waiting lists, “demonstrating high unmet demand.”
But not every student is well-prepared at charter schools, said Rep. Debbie Sariñana, D-Albuquerque.
She teaches freshman math classes at Manzano High School. Sariñana said some of her students who arrived from charter schools have needed extraordinary help.
One was 17 years old but landed in a freshman course because she had taken no math at her charter school and was far behind, Sariñana said.
The bill goes next to the State Government, Elections and Indian Affairs Committee.