Two Senate Democrats made blistering attacks on the state Public Education Department on Monday night, then helped kill a bill the agency supported to allow schools to hire adjunct teachers in grades 7 through 12.
“You’ve made our education system worse,” Sen. Cisco McSorley, D-Albuquerque, said to Matt Pahl, the department’s policy director and an expert witness on the bill. “You, PED, bring us Band-Aids. You’re putting us behind even further than we were six years ago,” before Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration came into power.
Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, D-Belen, said he could not support a bill authorizing the hiring of adjunct teachers because the regular workforce has been so disrespected. “PED is trying to demonize our teachers,” Sanchez said.
Pahl answered questions about the bill, but he didn’t respond to the senators’ criticisms of his agency. He and the bill sponsor, Sen. Ron Griggs, R-Alamogordo, said the measure was intended to address a teacher shortage by allowing skilled professionals without a traditional background in teaching to work part-time in public and charter schools.
Griggs’ bill failed in the Senate Judiciary Committee on a 5-4, party-line vote. Democrats opposed the measure, except Sen. Richard Martinez of Española, who didn’t vote. The bill would not have advanced even if Martinez, the committee chairman, had supported it.
Griggs said afterward that he was surprised by the animosity toward the Public Education Department, which is headed by one of Martinez’s more controversial appointees, Hanna Skandera.
“A couple of the senators that you heard really had an ax to grind with PED,” Griggs said.
Griggs’ fellow Republicans supported the bill. One of them, Sen. John Ryan of Los Ranchos, said he wanted to try new programs to improve schools. “I’ve always supported reform because we’re at the bottom of every education rating,” Ryan said.
Sen. Bill Payne, R-Albuquerque, said his legislative district has many highly qualified people, retired Ph.D.s and military personnel, who could contribute to schools as adjunct teachers. Payne said they would probably serve as adjunct teachers for free, simply because they want to help their community.
Sanchez responded by saying people from the business world would never tolerate what the state Public Education Department does to its regular workforce of teachers.
Sen. Linda Lopez, D-Albuquerque, opposed the bill on different grounds. She said the state already has an alternative licensing system to accommodate those who didn’t go to a college of education.
Pahl, though, said the requirements for alternative licensing discourage many people from trying to become teachers. He said they need 12 to 18 college credits, a barrier to people entering the system after they have worked in another career.
McSorley said he couldn’t support a bill that would give the Public Education Department control of the program because he has no confidence in the agency. And Sen. Joseph Cervantes, D-Las Cruces, asked if public school teachers could retire, then market themselves as adjunct faculty while collecting their retirement benefits. Griggs said that was possible.
The Republican-controlled House of Representatives has approved a similar bill for adjunct teachers. Sponsored by Rep. Conrad James, R-Albuquerque, it cleared the House 37-25. But James’ bill appears to have no chance to clear the Senate Judiciary Committee, so it won’t advance.