New Mexico Looking to Reform Charter Appeals Process

The New Mexico Public Education Commission is supporting legislation that would stop sponsors of charter school applications rejected by the commission from appealing that rejection to the state’s Secretary of Education. The Chairman of the Commission, M. Andrew Garrison, has asked the Legislative Education Study Committee to approve a bill that would vest the commission with the entire charter approval process.

If the legislation passes, that would close almost every single avenue for appeal for charter leaders whose applications are denied. The only way to overturn the rejection would be to file with the District Court.

Last year, the two men said, the Public Education Commission fielded 21 applicants and approved 11. Of the remaining 10, three made appeals. Back in 2007, only 10 charters applied and two were approved. That year, the Charter School Division recommended to the commission that it OK the application of Cottonwood Classical Preparatory School, but the commission instead declined the application. Cottonwood Classical then appealed to Secretary of Education Veronica Garcia, who  reversed the commission’s action.

Garrison said that during the hearing, the Charter School Division was forced to defend the position of the commission even though they actually opposed it.

Jeff Carr, one of the members of the PEC, also spoke in support of the proposed legislation. Carr, who in addition to his commission duties is also a teacher for Taos Public Schools, said that around 6 charter schools have so far been able to bypass the PEC and win approval directly from Secretary of Education Veronica Garcia or her designated replacement, Hanna Skandera.

Currently, 52 state-approved charters are operating in New Mexico. Fourteen more are scheduled to open this fall, including two additional school in the Santa Fe area, bringing the total in the city to four.

After Friday’s meeting, Rep. Rick Miera, D-Albuquerque, said the Legislative Education Study Committee will likely discuss the potential of introducing a piece of legislation in support of the commission’s mission in December, before next January’s legislative session.

“The appeal process needs to be strengthened,” he said. “We’ve always had concerns that when you do a charter-school appeal, you end up appealing to the same entity that you started working with in the beginning [the Charter School Division]. So, is that really an appeal?”

The Public Education Commission was the creation of former Governor Bill Richards and was designed to take over some of the duties of the disbanded New Mexico Board of Education. It is made up of ten members, each elected from a specific region. Each member serves for four years and elections are held every two years.