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Santa Fe: State house approves call for "NM Office of Special Education"

Mar 3, 2023, Santa Fe New Mexican: House committee endorses new special education agency

A bill that would create a New Mexico Office of Special Education moved a step forward Friday as members of the House Education Committee voted to endorse it.

The vote on House Bill 285 was by a narrow margin — 6-5 — raising questions about its chances of passing both chambers with just two weeks left in the legislative session.

Several members of the committee, including at least one lawmaker who supported the measure, questioned whether such an agency would make much of a difference when it comes to improving the education of the state's roughly 50,600 special education students.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who supports the bill, has recommended about $33 million for the new office, but so far the Legislature has not appropriated any funding for it. Whether lawmakers drafting the state budget have an appetite to commit money to the effort is unclear….

Rep. Elizabeth "Liz" Thomson, D-Albuquerque, who introduced the bill, said it would help support special education teachers, who "feel like they are on an island with no support."

Thomson, the mother of an adult special-needs child, has said she's struggled to navigate the special-education environment in the public school system over the years and wants the new office to do a better job of advocating for families.

She and advocates who spoke in favor of the bill at a previous committee hearing said academic outcomes of special education children make it clear the current system is not working for them.

The stakes are high. The Public Education Department's latest student achievement data, collected in the 2021-22 school year, shows significant gaps between students who participate in special education programs and their peers.

Language arts proficiency was about 9% for special education students, compared to 39% for other students. About 6% of special education students statewide were proficient in math, compared to 28% of other students.

Contributing to the state's challenges in educating students with special needs are 193 job vacancies for special education teachers….

Some lawmakers on the committee questioned whether a new office with one employee — although the bill's fiscal impact report says it could require up to three employees — would make a difference in the way the state delivers special education programs and services.

"I need to understand why [this bill is needed]," said Rep. Brian Baca, R-Los Lunas, an educator and school administrator. "If these activities are not going on now, there is no law in the state we can pass to get people to cooperate."…


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