Education in New Mexico

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Well, it doesn’t look like there’s much going on in New Mexico right now, because everybody is waiting for the start of the legislative session tomorrow. And, to be honest, it makes sense: today is a holiday, so most folk in the Land of Enchantment are happily relaxing on their day off (I know I’m enjoying my afternoon away from the office).

Joe Monahan brought up ex-Gov. Carruthers’ remarks on education in the state again today, and since I haven’t commented yet I figured I might as well do so now.

Carruthers, while a bit harsh in his comments, is also on to something. Minority students in this state face much tougher obstacles to obtaining a high-quality education than their white peers. One could go on and on about the numerous studies that link poverty and educational attainment.

The former gov is right on another point: the key will be better preparation for college. I’ve heard quite a bit of talk lately about the changing education landscape, and the need for more vocational schools and programs. While demand for these courses is up, we should be fighting the trend rather than encouraging it.

There will always be a place in our system for those who choose not to attend college. However, we should make every effort to persuade students that a university degree is a valid, nay, desirable goal. The U.S. is already behind Europe (and soon Asia) in several factors of scientific achievement, and the gap will continue to widen if we don’t change our priorities soon.

So, while it’s great the WNMU will likely receive $1 million for a vocational training center, I’m more pleased to hear the school plans to offer a wider array of college courses to high school students around the state. And, though I may have been opposed to need-based scholarships several years ago, I think they make all kinds of sense now. Gov. Richardson hopes to make a $50 million investment in the scholarships, and this is a step in the right direction.

However, regardless of how much help you give college freshmen financially, their families need help while the kids are still in middle and high school. A minimum wage hike, long a goal of progressives in the state, is also long overdue. It’s simply ridiculous to think that a 1997 wage is adequate for families in 2006.

Simply put, everybody in New Mexico needs to pay more attention to education: from the parents who struggle with two or three jobs just to put food on the table, to the research scientists at our national laboratories, to our elected officials in Santa Fe. We need policies that will help those who need help the most, and we need to take a serious look at our flawed system of teaching children. Stop-gap measures only serve to buy us time, and, as Carruthers pointed out, time is something that is desperately in short supply.

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