Democrat Michelle Lujan Grisham officially started her second term as New Mexico governor on New Year's Day with promises of “launching the state into the future” by building on the work her administration has done over the past four years.
“Progress — not paralysis — is in fact our destiny,” Lujan Grisham said shortly after taking the oath of office during a public ceremony Sunday afternoon. “We will move forward into the unknown with malice toward none and with charity for all, and with the conviction that hard work on behalf of New Mexicans will always win the day.”
The day’s festivities in the capital city of Santa Fe included performances by Native American dancers and a mariachi band. The governor’s ball was scheduled for the evening, with tickets going for $1,000 per person.
In her remarks, Lujan Grisham ran down a list of the primary issues she plans to tackle. They included early childhood education, affordable housing, opioid addiction and codifying abortion rights.
She also announced plans to establish the New Mexico Healthcare Authority, “a comprehensive entity that will expand access to services and cut through the red tape that keeps New Mexicans from getting the high quality healthcare they need."
Lujan Grisham won a hard-fought and costly race for reelection against Republican Mark Ronchetti, with outside groups spending heavily on the campaigns.
Lujan Grisham and the Democrat-controlled Legislature are expected to take advantage of a more than favorable financial forecast as they set spending priorities during the upcoming session. Among the top orders of business will be addressing public safety concerns and the state’s dismal educational outcomes.
Citing billions of dollars in new money, the governor said in a recent social media post that New Mexico has an opportunity to reach new heights.
“We will double down on the investments we know are working and explore innovative new strategies through investments in key areas like housing, healthcare, education and public safety,” she said.
The Legislature has increased recurring appropriations for public schools by more than $1 billion since 2018. While some progress has been made, legislative analysts in a September briefing last year outlined numerous recommendations for making sure the investments actually pay off.
New Mexico continues to rank at the bottom of many lists that gauge educational success, even four years after landmark litigation that resulted in a district court determining the state was falling short of its constitutional responsibility to provide an adequate education to all students.
The case predated Lujan Grisham’s first term. Despite her effort to get the case dismissed, a judge ruled the court would maintain its jurisdiction until there were long-term comprehensive reforms implemented.
The state Public Education Department earlier this year released a draft plan for dealing with the shortcomings highlighted by the case but a final version has yet to be made public.
Results from the latest standardized tests also show just 26% of students in grades three to eight were proficient in math while 34% were proficient in reading, putting New Mexico further behind other states even when considering the widespread challenges across the U.S. that were brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.
The nonprofit group Think New Mexico has published recommendations ranging from increasing learning time to keeping class sizes small and shifting money from administration to the classroom as ways to turn things around.
“Improving New Mexico’s public schools is the most pressing need facing our state," said Fred Nathan, the group's founder and executive director.
He pointed to more time in the classroom as an evidence-based reform and the importance of maximizing the amount of the education budget that is spent in classrooms. The goal, he said, is ensuring the state’s investments will "yield the largest return for students.”
One immediate change the governor is banking on to make a difference in 2023 is the availability of free virtual tutoring in math, language arts and science for many pre-K through eighth grade students. The program was announced in December.
Susan Montoya Bryan, The Associated Press