Education Privatization Gets Head Start in Santa Fe?

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Anti-government privatization activists are joining teachers, parents and community members to oppose a first-of-its-kind education privatization program in what some see as a very unlikely place: Santa Fe.

During a meeting last month, the Santa Fe Public Schools Board approved a contract with Atlantic Education Partners, a private corporation with connections to the new district superintendent, to provide education services to students in danger of dropping out of school all together.

From the Associated Press:

The district will allow Atlantic Education Partners, a private firm, to use state funds for the new Engage Santa Fe program, which is aimed at recruiting high school dropouts and will launch next semester, The New Mexican reported ( ).

The program will allow returning students to go to class at a separate facility, away from existing high schools, but learn online, too. Every student also will be issued an Amazon Kindle.

The school board approved the program last week in a 4-1 vote. Glenn Wikle, who cast the dissenting vote, said the program is an example of the privatization of public education and giving state money to an out-of-state party.

According to the district, each Santa Fe Public Schools student generates $6,700 in funding. That money will fund Engage Santa Fe. Santa Fe district Superintendent Joel Boyd said the district won’t benefit financially or have to help pay….

Boyd, the superintendent, and Wise worked together in Florida’s public school system, and Wise worked as an unpaid member of Boyd’s transition team when he first became superintendent. Boyd said his past relationship with Wise did not influence the program getting approved, adding that he didn’t offer any recommendations when officials were taking proposals for the project.

The Santa Fe Reporter also adds:

Engage has also come under scrutiny for Boyd’s intentions to simultaneously serve as principal of the school and work as superintendent of the district. “I don’t understand how he can be superintendent and principal,” Trujillo says.

Atlantic Education Partners is headed by Joseph Wise, who worked on Boyd’s transition team at the beginning of his tenure as superintendent.

That decision set off a firestorm of opposition from the district’s teachers’ union and community leaders who believe that in addition to being illegal under state law, the contract is the first direct privatization of public education in the state.

Opponents are encouraged by a recent attorney general’s opinion which said the for-profit K12-inc. was illegally managing a virtual charter school in Farmington.  [More on that story here].

Several Santa Fe-area state legislators recently sent a letter to the attorney general requesting a similar opinion on the SFPS-Atlantic Education Partners contract.

They cite, among other concerns, Article 12, Section III of the New Mexico Constitution which prohibits the use of state public education dollars “for the support of any sectarian, denomination or private, school, college or university.”

NEA’s Bernice Garcia Baca added in an email to SFPS board members, as reported by the Albuquerque Journal:

NEA Santa Fe President Bernice García Baca, in a Monday email to Boyd and members of the school board, urged the board to withdraw the plan and re-configure it so it doesn’t violate the state Constitution.

She cites an article of the Constitution covering educational institutions and use of proceeds from state land and other educational funds. It states that public schools, colleges, universities and other public educational institutions “shall forever remain under the exclusive control of the state,” and that no part of the funds “shall be used for the support of any sectarian, denominational or private school, college or university.”

“This section makes clear that no funds appropriated for public schools may be used to fund private education,” García Baca wrote.

She added that since students in Engage Santa Fe would be “supported with funding intended for students in public schools and there is a principal, this center is a school under the definition in the New Mexico Constitution. … Providing this funding to ‘Atlantic Education Partners’ is providing them to a private school.”

She added that there are many current SFPS teachers who might be eager to participate in the program.