A committee voted along party lines Saturday to temporarily halt the creation of any new charter schools, sending the moratorium to a vote in the full House of Representatives.
Backers, including teachers unions, argue House Bill 46 would allow time to develop better oversight of charter schools and prevent new schools from drawing funding at a time when the budget for public education is already tight.
But opponents, including the Public Education Department, business groups and parents with children on waiting lists for charter schools, argue the measure would limit options for students.
“The victims of this legislation will be those families and those students who need those alternatives,” J.D. Bullington, a lobbyist for the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce, told the House Education Committee.
The committee voted 7-6 to advance the measure.
Sponsored by Rep. Christine Trujillo, D-Albuquerque, the bill is only one sentence long, stating simply that no new applications for charter schools would be accepted or approved between June 1, 2017, and Jan. 1, 2020.
The bill follows a report last year by the Legislative Finance Committee that recommended additional guidelines for authorizing charter schools and a new system for funding those schools. The report found inconsistent oversight of charter schools, with charters rarely revoked, despite poor performance.
The number of charter schools around New Mexico has grown from 63 in fiscal year 2008 to 99 in fiscal year 2016, though about five are expected to soon close, according to the Legislative Finance Committee. The committee found charter schools, when compared to traditional public schools, serve a lower percentage of students who are Hispanic or economically disadvantaged.
Efforts at broad reform of New Mexico’s network charter schools have sputtered during this 60-day session, however.
On Wednesday, the House Education Committee tabled a sprawling bill that called for “automatic closure” of low-performing charter schools, removing a cap on the number of charter schools that can open in any given year as well as giving high-performing charter schools the ability to streamline their renewal process and cutting charter school funding by 25 percent over the course of several years.
Even if the full House of Representatives and the Senate pass Trujillo’s moratorium, it would still require the approval of Gov. Susana Martinez, whose own Public Education Department has opposed the measure.