Rio Grande Foundation Policy Brief: On Balance Evidence Points to Appointed Public Regulation Commission

(Albuquerque, NM) – New Mexico’s Public Regulation Commission (PRC) has been at the center of a number of momentous and controversial issues (particularly the Energy Transition Act) in recent years. But bi-partisan momentum exists for reforming the powerful regulatory body and a Constitutional Amendment will be on this November’s ballot which will transform the PRC into a three member body appointed by the Gov.

Is this a good move? What evidence exists from other, similar regulatory agencies? In his new Issue Brief “Should the Governor Appoint PRC Commissioners?” which analyzes the issue and brings evidence from other states into the discussion, the Rio Grande Foundation’s Adjunct Scholar Kenneth Costello discusses the issue and offer his recommendations.

Ultimately, Costello concludes, “While it was not a “slam dunk,” the finding of this brief is that a three-member PRC appointed by the Governor, with input from the nominating committee, would be best for New Mexico.

His arguments in favor of the Constitutional Amendment include: the current Commission size of five commissioners is too many, moving to an appointed model would lead to better-qualified members on the Commission, and appointed commissions have a bigger pool of applicants than the relatively limited number who would run for office.

At the Rio Grande Foundation we expect to disagree regularly with the measures taken by the PRC (the decision to adopt a 100% “renewable” electricity portfolio is only the latest). However, those are often philosophical issues handed down by the Legislature for the PRC to more fully vet and implement.

Ultimately, given the choice between a five member elected PRC and a three member appointed body, the three member commission is the most sensible.

COVID 19 News: Wallethub report & NM’s dropping case numbers

According to the latest Wallethub report, New Mexico is the 34th-most open State in the nation as relates to COVID 19. So, relative to OTHER states, New Mexico continues to reopen somewhat.

The news from Wallethub is not all good as the new report lists New Mexico as a highly-restricted AND high death rate state. Of course, the “sweet spot” is the exact opposite: open AND low death rate. Utah, North Dakota, and Wyoming are three of the states in that enviable position. As the New York Times’ handy tracking site notes, New Mexico continues to see a rapid decline in the number of COVID 19 cases. The 7 day rolling average is a little more than half of what it was as recently as late July.

Tipping Point New Mexico Podcast Episode 221: Governor Knows Best!

On this week’s discussion podcast, Paul and Wally begin by discussing the new “viral video” Governor Knows Best!

The Virus that has so profoundly impacted our society continues to wane. On July 29, NM had a 7 day average of 330 new cases of COVID 19. Now NM has a 7 day average of 186 new cases. The 7-day death average is 4.

The Gov. is okay with the United playing, but not Lobos or Aggies. Is the Big 10 Conference planning to cancel their 2020 football season?

According to news reports, APS School Board may not have in-person school begin until the start of 2021.

MLG takes personal credit for highway construction.

Trump issues an Executive Order to keep unemployment benefits coming. While Paul & Wally have serious concerns about the legality and precedent of the Order, according to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget the package would cost “just” $13 billion in additional debt. That is a small fraction of the proposed federal stimulus packages that have cost in the trillions.

ABQ’s parking attendants have been working hard. Of course, this is a money grab by the City of Albuquerque that hurts small businesses.

More craziness out of local government from both Albuquerque and Bernalillo County.

Expanding New Mexico state pre-K would be a costly mistake

The following appeared in the Albuquerque Journal on August 10, 2020:

The Legislative Finance Committee (LFC) recently released a study of the “inaugural cohort” of the state’s pre-K program, concluding that “prekindergarten remains a cost-effective way to improve student outcomes.” But the LFC’s own data shows that expanding pre-K would instead be a costly mistake.

The LFC’s study cites “statistically significant” improvements in children’s outcomes, which in real life are essentially meaningless. Children who attended pre-K scored barely higher on the six kindergarten-entry readiness domains measured — just a couple of percentage points at most. In the crucial areas of literacy and mathematics, only about 60% were kindergarten-ready, whether they attended pre-K or not.

Differences in third-grade PARCC proficiencies, too, were tiny. Almost three-quarters of both pre-K and non-pre-K groups failed to meet third-grade PARCC proficiency in English: 70.3% of pre-K attendees and 71.9% of non-attendees. Roughly two-thirds of both groups failed to meet standards in math: 65.9% of children who went to pre-K compared to 68.1% of children who did not.

If pre-K were affecting children’s achievement, New Mexico’s National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) scores would be rising as pre-K attendance goes up. From 2011 to 2019, however, while the percentage of fourth-graders who had attended pre-K almost tripled, the percentage scoring at or above Basic on the NAEP reading exam remained precisely the same at 53%. In math, that percentage actually declined from 75% to 72%.

The largest outcome differences the LFC reports are for chronic absence — missing over 10% of school — and high school graduation within four years. Twelve percent of children who went to pre-K were chronically absent compared to 16% of those who did not attend. Eighty percent of the 1,540 students in the inaugural pre-K cohort graduated within four years compared to 74% of the roughly 25,000 students who had not gone to pre-K 14 years prior.

Both these differences are likely caused by parents, though, not by children starting school when they’re 4 instead of 5. Parents who voluntarily send their 4-year-old to school for an entire year also probably try harder to make sure their child attends school regularly and graduates on time.

That is, children who attend pre-K have exactly the parents most likely to ensure their success throughout schooling. And the influence of a child’s parents greatly outweighs a single year of school, whether that’s pre-K or fifth grade.

Finally, the LFC study concludes that pre-K is a cost-effective use of taxpayer dollars. But compared to what? “Cost effectiveness” means comparing various programs to determine which yield the biggest results for the same expenditure of limited resources.

Policymakers can’t decide if spending $100 on Program X makes sense if they only know it yields an eventual benefit of $106. How does $106 compare to the benefit of spending $100 on other programs with the same goal? In the case of improving school achievement, the LFC itself has identified approaches far more effective than pre-K.

In a 2017 study, the LFC found that teacher quality had the “most impact on a student’s academic achievement” of all school-related factors, reporting positive effects which were orders of magnitude larger than any associated with pre-K. Children’s PARCC scores in math and reading varied by up to 49 percentage points over three years, depending on whether they had effective or ineffective teachers. Low-performing schools that participated in “Teachers Pursuing Excellence” peer mentoring increased the percentage of students scoring at proficient or above on the PARCC exam from 24% to 35% in reading and 16% to 27% in math, over just two years.

Policymakers should be seeking the most effective use of resources to improve student outcomes and help children who need help the most. Based on the LFC’s recent study, adding a pre-K grade to the public schools seems like more of a “cost-effective way” to rearrange deck chairs on the Titanic.

A “democratic” alternative for the schools?

The Rio Grande Foundation recently went on the record calling for money to follow the students when it comes to K-12 learning.

But, Albuquerque Public Schools (APS) and likely other districts around the state is considering not reopening the schools to in-person learning until the end of 2020. This is bound to upset a lot of parents and it certainly raises questions about the priorities of the District.

As an alternative to returning a significant portion of per-pupil spending to families, how about the District sends out a survey to parents and teachers to figure out who wants in-person learning (with basic COVID modifications) and which teachers are interested in teaching in-person as opposed to online. The Unions oppose-in-person learning and they have the loudest megaphone, but a fair vote would likely show many teachers who WANT to teach in-person.

Depending on the results it would seem that a significant portion of parents AND teachers could come together to educate children in-person while others could teach and learn in an online or “blended” setting.

The “one-size-fits-all” concept of K-12 education has never worked particularly well. This has been laid bare by COVID 19. It would seem that trying some innovative solutions like this one would be superior to forcing ALL students into a virtual model through the end of the calendar year.

Albuquerque Public Schools publishes 64-page school reentry plan ...

Extraordinary Session for New Mexico?

The Rio Grande Foundation has repeatedly expressed concern about Gov. Lujan Grisham’s overreach in addressing the Covid19 situation in New Mexico. Once a public health emergency has been called, the ability for anyone to hold the Gov. accountable is pretty limited.

A small group of legislators have responded to calls from their constituents to put a stop to Michelle Lujan Grisham’s executive orders with an unprecedented attempt.

They are using a provision in the New Mexico Constitution to call for an Extraordinary Session of the New Mexico Legislature.  You can see their website here.

That provision allows for 3/5ths of the legislators in the House and Senate to call a legislative session without the permission of the Governor or the Speaker of the House.

It may be a long shot, but it’s probably the only shot that legislators have at curbing MLG’s executive power.

To succeed, they’ll need 42 Representatives and 26 Senators.

I hope that this movement succeeds, but for success it will take every Republican legislator signing on, as well as Democrat defectors.

You can find out if your legislator as signed onto this effort and get their contact information by clicking on the logo below:

MLG’s sports rules: a microcosm of the issues w/ COVID 19 rules

Professional Soccer playing: Yes

High School Soccer games: NO

College Football games: No

Gov. Lujan Grisham has shown favoritism for the New Mexico United from day one putting the owner on her Economic Recovery Council and signing a bill giving the team $4 million for a new stadium.

The best argument her Administration could come up with to justify her argument in support of soccer and against football was “One is a business and the other is not. One is a job and the other is not,  professional sports teams don’t exist on a college campus like school teams do, where viral infection would affect a great many people beyond the team.” wrote Press Secretary Nora Meyers Sackett in an email.

That sounds plausible, but it completely ignores any innovative solutions (like those being implemented by the United) to prevent the spread. Finally, what do the players think? Shouldn’t they have a say in the matter? In pro sports like baseball players who have concerns have been able to sit out if they have concerns.

And finally, young people in general are killed by the Virus at a tiny fraction of the rate of  older people.

One-size-fits-all policies not based on the science and benefiting the politically-connected. Just another day in the Lujan Grisham Administration.

Tipping Point NM Episode 220: Jennifer Mock – Estancia Valley Classical Academy Challenges

On this week’s interview, Paul talks to Jennifer Mock. Jennifer is the Executive Director of the Estancia Valley Classical Academy (EVCA) based in Edgewood, NM.

EVCA is part of the Barney Charter School network which was put forth by Hillsdale College. It has a bent to classical education with an emphasis on using original texts and the Socratic method in learning. With everything going on in the K-12 sector these days we wanted to get Jennifer on the show to talk about her school and the many challenges it is facing in the COVID 19 pandemic. If you are concerned about New Mexico’s future as a state, education reform, or are in need of educational options, you won’t want to miss this episode.

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Gov. Lujan Grisham takes personal credit for highway construction

Bill Richardson had his self-aggrandizing Governor Richardson Improvement Project (GRIP) which blurred the lines between campaign signs and taxpayer-funded government projects.

Now, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s Administration has highway signs throughout New Mexico saying, “Gov. Lujan Grisham Highway Improvement Project.” The Rio Grande Foundation has joined Power The Future New Mexico to highlight the issue and call on Gov. Lujan Grisham to remove her name from the signs and instead credit New Mexico taxpayers for funding the projects.

Local government NEVER stops attacking business

As if the COVID 19 lockdowns haven’t done enough harm to businesses around New Mexico and in the Metro area, two proposals (one from Albuquerque City Council and one from Bernalillo County Commission) would further inflict harm on local businesses, many of whom have been forced to close their doors since March.

In Albuquerque, the push for mandated paid sick leave rears its ugly head for the umpteenth time as Councilor Diane Gibson is pushing legislation to create “A Task Force To Explore Options For Implementing Minimum Sick Leave Requirements In The City.” It is ordinance R-86 if you contact your councilor to explain yet again, that in the best of economic times this is a job-killer. With the entire City under lockdown and businesses closing in droves, a biased task force is the last thing we need.

Not to be outdone in its effort to harm the local economy, Bernalillo County Commissioner Debbie O’Malley is introducing a “Project Labor Agreement” bill to the County. You can read more here under agenda item 8. PLA’s essentially hand public works projects over to unions in ways that increase costs to taxpayers. The bill will be introduced at the County Commission meeting on Tuesday, August 11, at 5:00pm. Here are a few choice portions of the proposed ordinance: