by Robert Nott, Santa Fe New Mexican
Jan. 17, 2018

There was a time when New Mexicans could say, “Thank God for Mississippi,” because that state always performed just a little bit worse than New Mexico in various national rankings, keeping us from being rated dead last.

This year, the motto should be “Thank God for Nevada,” because it was the only state that scored lower than New Mexico when it comes to public education, according to the annual Quality Counts report by the national Education Week magazine.

The report, released Wednesday, ranks New Mexico 50th out of 50 states and the District of Columbia, with a score of 66.2, or a D.

Mississippi edged out New Mexico with a D-plus this year, earning a score of 66.8. Nevada earned 65 — a D.

No state earned an A in the report. Massachusetts took the top spot with a B-plus, followed by New Jersey, Vermont, New Hampshire and Connecticut — all B’s.

It was the third blow in recent days by a national study that says a high poverty rate is hindering children.

Quality Counts comes just days after the personal finance website WalletHub issued a report calling New Mexico the worst state to raise a family and the nonprofit New Mexico Voices for Children released its annual Kids Count Data Book, showing a rise in poverty among the state’s children — to 29 percent — and a decline in the number of kids with health insurance.

Kids Count also gave New Mexico a poor grade for its public education system.

Not surprisingly, Quality Counts said, states with stronger economies tend to have better school systems.

Sterling Lloyd, assistant director of the Education Week Research Center, made that point in an interview Wednesday as he reviewed the impact of poverty on poor-performing states like New Mexico.

“Poverty gaps make a difference,” Lloyd said. “Research shows that children facing fewer risk factors, such as living in poverty, are more likely to achieve academically.”

New Mexico frequently ranks near or at the bottom in public education measures when compared to other states. Last year, the state also received a D and ranked 49th in the Quality Counts report. The two previous years, it earned a D-minus, down from three consecutive C’s.

Quality Counts, now in its 22nd year, reviews three components of each state’s education system: funding distribution, student achievement and what the report calls its “chance-for-success” index. New Mexico earned a D-plus in the latter category, which measures an education system’s effect on children from preschool to college and career. The state showed slight gains in the number of children enrolled in early childhood education programs and a bump in its high school graduation rate over the year, the report says.

New Mexico earned its worst grade, a D-minus, in achievement. Scores on standardized tests in the state remain dismal, with just 19.7 percent of students in grades 3-11 showing proficiency in math and 28.6 percent proficient in language arts on the most recent round of PARCC exams, administered by a consortium of states called the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers.

New Mexico earned its best grade, a C-minus, in how it divvies up education funding. The state uses a per-pupil spending formula that, while imperfect in some critics’ views, attempts to address the issue of equality by taking into account various factors ranging from English-language proficiency to special-education needs.

The question of whether the state is spending enough on public education is at the heart of a pending lawsuit filed by several school districts, parents and students. First Judicial District Judge Sarah Singleton is expected to rule on that case sometime this spring.

Quality Counts does not look at individual programs or policies that might make a difference when it comes to improving student achievement.

“We put the data out on a 50-state basis and hope it’s a useful resource for policymakers in the state to consider,” Lloyd said.

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