Political Fact Check: HB145 Causes House Race Controversy

By CAROL A. CLARK
Los Alamos Daily Post

It is election season and as usual inboxes fill up quickly with political ads and press releases. Usually these pass without comment but one recent press release has become an issue in Los Alamos because it concerns the local race for state representative, but is based largely on inaccurate information.

A press release distributed Sept. 16 by the Republican Party of New Mexico claimed that State Rep. Stephanie Garcia Richard, a Democrat and incumbent in the seat, failed to follow the requests of the Los Alamos Public Schools to support House Bill 145 in the 2016 legislative session.

The release claimed that the bill would have allowed non-certified instructors with bachelor degrees to teach dual credit classes to local high school students.

Upon closer examination of this issue, that information is found to be inaccurate. LAPS confirmed that Garcia Richard did not vote against the wishes of the district and UNM-LA confirmed that the bill as written could not change dual credit offerings since teachers of college credit courses must hold masters degrees or higher.

LAPS Board Member Matt Williams addressed the issue Wednesday. “Every year the school board puts together a pamphlet with our priorities for the upcoming legislative session and last year those priorities did not include anything about priorities concerning qualifications for teaching dual credit courses,” Williams said.

Garcia Richard said that she meets with Los Alamos school officials before each legislative session and multiple times throughout each session to ensure Los Alamos schools’ needs are met.

“We have a great partnership and have been very successful together at increasing funding, addressing over testing, and working to establish a better evaluation system,” Garcia Richard said.

School Board member Bill Hargraves also disputed the information in the press release.  “Our priority this past session was the budget,” Hargraves said. “HB 145 wasn’t a priority this past year and as a school district we have our positions filled so there isn’t a need to have outside people come in to teach our students.”

He added that the idea is a worthy topic to discuss but said it’s likely two or three years out into the future.

“This really needs to be thought out and have adequate discussion to ensure it’s done in such a way that we don’t lose focus on our students,” Hargraves said.

An examination of the bill and press release reveal the following:

  • HB-145 would not have permitted new dual credit courses to be offered. The Legislative Finance Committee produced an analysis of HB 145, which said the bill would have allowed individuals with a bachelors degree but without regular teaching credentials to teach in grades 7-12, but the Higher Learning Commission, the national accrediting agency for colleges and universities, requires that any instructor of a college credit class have a Masters degree or higher. HB-145 would not have expanded any dual credit offerings at Los Alamos High School or any other high school in New Mexico.
  • Interviews on this topic by the Santa Fe New Mexican with UNM-LA Executive Director Cindy Rooney found that Rooney would be interested in offering more dual credit classes, but confirmed that the branch campus did not lobby for the bill and never asked Garcia Richard to support its passage.
  • In interviews with Los Alamos Public School Board members Matt Williams and Bill Hargraves, the board members revealed that HB-145 was not on their list of bills to support. 
  • The press release was accurate in saying that Garcia Richard voted against HB-145 but her vote did not affect its passage. HB 145 passed the House where Garcia Richard is a member, but died in the Senate.

When asked why she voted against the bill, Garcia Richard explained that she supports the concept of offering more teaching opportunities in the schools, but this bill would have allowed up to 50 percent of all teachers hired to be untrained instructors, creating the possibility for weakened schools and harm to students.

The Legislative Finance Committee’s analysis of the bill found that the bill could have undermined the state educators pension system as well by replacing large numbers of certified teachers with temporary adjunct teachers who do not pay into the retirement system.

Editors note: Read the full New Mexico Public Education Commission guidelines & requirements for schools teaching dual credit classes, as established through the national Higher Learning Commission: http://ped.state.nm.us/ped/ RFPdocs/2016/2016-17%20Dual% 20Credit%20RfI.pdf

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