Lawmakers debate N.M. Hispanic Education Act

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The Senate passed the House bill 25-13 on Wednesday

By Susan M. Bryan

SANTA FE — The Senate, for the second time, debated legislation aimed at closing an achievement gap for New Mexico Hispanic students, improving their high school graduation rates and getting more of them to college.

The Senate passed the House bill 25-13 on Wednesday after amending it to add language that would encourage state education officials to both develop and implement a plan for helping Hispanic students. The House would have to agree to the change before the bill could go to the governor.

The House made a similar change to the Senate version of the bill before passing it 42-24 late Wednesday.

Democrat Rep. Rick Miera of Albuquerque was optimistic both chambers would agree to the changes and send the legislation to the governor before the session ends Thursday at noon.

Gov. Bill Richardson and Public Education Secretary Veronica Garcia have been pushing for a state Hispanic Education Act, which officials say would be the first of its kind in the country.

Nearly 56 percent of the students in New Mexico schools are Hispanic, and the legislation’s supporters say the state has a responsibility to find a way to help the majority of its students.

Critics argue that the proposed Hispanic Education Act would leave other students behind.

“Education should be based on the needs of a child, not their ethnic background,” said Senate President Pro Tem Tim Jennings, D-Roswell.

Sen. Dianna Duran, R-Tularosa, said the legislation should be renamed the New Mexico Children’s Education Act and focus on all children.

In New Mexico, Hispanic students score lower in reading and math than their white and Asian counterparts.

Hispanic students’ graduation rate is about 56 percent, compared with a 71 percent graduation rate for white students.

The legislation would establish a liaison within the Public Education Department who would focus on Hispanic students. It also would create a 23-member advisory council and require the Public Education Department to submit an annual report on the statewide status of Hispanic education from preschool through high school.