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School Class Sizes Among Issues New Mexico Lawmakers to Consider

PHOTO: The New Mexico Legislature's annual session opens today, and limiting class sizes in public schools is among the many issues on the docket for the lawmakers. Photo courtesy U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
PHOTO: The New Mexico Legislature's annual session opens today, and limiting class sizes in public schools is among the many issues on the docket for the lawmakers. Photo courtesy U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
January 20, 2015

SANTA FE, N.M. - Limiting class sizes in public schools is among the many issues New Mexico lawmakers will consider during this year's legislative session, which opens Tuesday.

Lawmakers will consider House Joint Resolution 2, which could lead to a ballot measure amending the state constitution. The measure would mandate class size limits by the fall of 2022.

Betty Patterson, president of the National Education Association of New Mexico, says smaller classes will help students who are struggling to learn.

"Our third graders are not able to read on grade level," says Patterson. "This would increase their chances of having one-to-one instruction in reading, in remediation of math, everything that we offer."

She says deep budget cuts over the past few years have caused class sizes to explode, with up to 40 students in some cases. The measure would mandate class sizes not exceed 18 student for kindergarten through grade three; 22 students for grades four through eight; and 25 students for grades nine through twelve. The limits would not apply to music, band, elective and extracurricular classes.

Patterson says another major challenge is the state's teacher shortage, caused in large part by low salaries.

"I know we have many teachers who are also on assistance, food stamps, home assistance, different things like that, because of their salaries," she says. "So they're not going to stay in the teaching profession if they can't afford to pay for their own children and feed their own children."

Patterson says a starting salary for a teacher in New Mexico is $30,000 per year. She says teachers are leaving the state because they can earn up to $20,000 more in Texas and elsewhere.

Troy Wilde, Public News Service - NM