2024 Legislative Update
Research shows that school boards can positively impact student performance when they make that their core focus. Senate Bill 137, developed by Think New Mexico, has been introduced Senate President Pro Tem Mimi Stewart (D-Albuquerque) and Senate Education Committee Chair William Soules (D-Las Cruces) to enhance the statutory requirements for school board training and transparency.
Senate Bill 137 ensures that school board members will receive annual training in topics including laws and policies affecting public schools; public school finance, budgeting and fiduciary responsibilities of local school boards; how local school boards can evaluate the academic achievement of students in their district and use data to set individual school goals for student performance in each of the school district’s public schools; and effective governance practices and strategies for supporting and supervising the local superintendent (the average tenure of school district superintendents in New Mexico is less than two years)
Senate Bill 137 also increases transparency by requiring all school board candidates to disclose their campaign contributions. Under current law, only school board members in districts larger than 12,000 students – which is just five of the state’s 89 districts – must make these disclosures. By contrast, 44 other states require all school board candidates to disclose their donors.
Finally, the bill requires that school board and charter school board meetings be webcast and the recordings archived to make it easier for families and community members to participate.
School board governance reforms are strongly supported by New Mexico voters. A November 2023 poll found that 88% of New Mexico voters support requiring school board members to receive expanded and enhanced training in topics like how to read school district budgets, how to effectively oversee a school district superintendent, and how school board members can positively impact student achievement of New Mexico. Similarly, 87% support requiring school boards to webcast their meetings, and 79% support requiring all school board candidates to disclose their campaign contributions. The poll of 403 registered voters in New Mexico was commissioned by Think New Mexico and overseen by UNM Professor Dr. Gabriel Sanchez, a nationally recognized expert in New Mexico politics and policy.
2023 Legislative Update
Research shows that school boards can positively impact student performance when they make that their core focus. House Bill 325, drafted by Think New Mexico and sponsored by Representatives Natalie Figueroa, Susan Herrera, Gail Armstrong, and other, aims to improve school board governance by enhancing training, accountability, and transparency.
House Bill 325 would ensure that board members receive training in public school finance; the role of school boards in improving student achievement; and best practices for supervising and supporting a superintendent. It would also require all school board candidates to disclose their campaign contributions, ensure that meetings are webcast, and require members who violate the prohibition against nepotism to step down from their position.
The bill was supported by a coalition that included individual school board members from communities across the state as well as the League of Women Voters NM, Common Cause NM, the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce, the New Mexico Chamber of Commerce, Teach Plus, the National Education Association, and the American Federation of Teachers. It was opposed by the NM School Boards Association, which stridently objected to the campaign finance disclosures and to adding a penalty for nepotism.
House Bill 325 passed the House Government, Elections, and Indian Affairs Committee 7-1. Unfortunately, after an intense, two-hour debate, the House Education Committee tabled the bill on an 8-4 vote.
Think New Mexico is committed to bringing back these reforms during the 2024 legislative session, as the quality of education in our public schools requires the best possible leadership at the top.
Coalition in Support of HB 325
AFT New Mexico
Common Cause New Mexico
Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce
League of Women Voters New Mexico
NEA New Mexico
New Mexico Chamber of Commerce
New Mexico Foundation for Open Government
Teach Plus New Mexico
A large body of research has found that local school boards can positively impact student learning when their decisions and actions are focused on elevating student achievement.
Unfortunately, in the past there have been frequent instances of school board members who failed to focus on this core mission because they were actively running for another political office, or because they were focused on finding jobs in the school district for their friends and political supporters.
To deter candidates who seek to use the local school board as a political stepping stone, the legislature should enact a law requiring school board members to resign their school board seat as soon as they file paperwork to run for another elected office.
New Mexico state law already prohibits superintendents from hiring immediate family members of school board members. However, New Mexico is one of just 13 states with no penalty for engaging in nepotism. In a majority of other states, nepotism by a school board member carries a penalty that ranges from from a fine to a civil action to a criminal misdemeanor to removal from office to even a criminal felony in two states.
Similarly, in New Mexico only school board candidates in districts with 12,000 or more students are required to disclose their political donations. Only 5 of the 89 school districts in New Mexico meet that threshold today. That means of the 447 school board members in New Mexico, just 27 (less than 7%) are required to disclose their political contributions, even though school boards for even the smallest districts oversee the doling out of lucrative public contracts.
To deter those who would use their school board position to reward relatives and political supporters, the legislature and governor should require that school board members 1) forfeit their office if proven to have engaged in nepotism and 2) disclose all of their political contributions and contributors.
Deterring potential school board members who run for the office for the wrong reasons is one part of the solution to improving the quality of school boards.
In addition, a growing body of research has shown that school board performance can be improved by providing members with high-quality training. A 2020 meta-analysis of two decades worth of research found that school boards that dedicated more time to training their members in good governance practices demonstrated an increased focus on student performance, which in turn was correlated with higher student achievement in those districts.
Currently, New Mexico school board members receive just five hours a year of training, which provides a very basic foundation in school finance and law. Considering that most school board members enter their positions without any background or expertise in how to oversee a school district, they would benefit from significantly more training in how to succeed in their roles.
The legislature and governor should increase the annual training requirements for all school board members from five hours to 24, and focus those expanded trainings on how school board governance can improve student outcomes.
A final reform to improve school board culture is by increasing transparency. Although many school board meetings went remote during the height of the pandemic, there is no requirement that school board meetings be webcast or that families have options to participate remotely. The sunshine of transparency can deter bad behavior and make it easier for com-munity members to participate.
The legislature and governor should require that all school board meetings be webcast, and those webcasts archived, just as they are for legislative hearings.
By implementing this package of reforms, we can make New Mexico’s school boards more professional and put school district leaders in a position to focus on the things that really matter, like increasing student achievement.
Read our guest editorial about the importance of improving school board training, transparency, and accountability • February 24, 2023
Read an editorial from the Santa Fe New Mexican in support of Think New Mexico’s school board reforms • February 16, 2023