Sherry Robinson 2020

© 2020 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES     1/13/20
Research sheds light on impacts, perceptions of raising teacher pay
By Sherry Robinson

All She Wrote
            Lawmakers and the governor want to give teachers another raise.
            The Legislative Finance Committee has proposed a 3% pay raise for teachers and school personnel and more for bilingual and special education teachers. The governor proposed 4% increases for teachers.
            Recently, House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, called for a whopping 10% hike.
            Last year, teachers and school administrators got 6% pay raises. That brought the three tiers to $40,000, $50,000, and $60,000 for fiscal 2020. The House Education Committee wanted $46,000, $56,000, and $66,000 but compromised in hopes of raising salaries this year.
            Reformers say too much money went toward teacher salaries and not enough into programs that meet demands of the Yazzie-Martinez education lawsuit for more attention to at-risk students.
            Still, one of the stumbling blocks in improving those programs is attracting qualified teachers, especially faced with high teacher vacancies around the state.
            Research shines a light on several aspects of teacher compensation. Rewards can pay dividends for schools and students, and the way it's done makes a difference. Here are findings of studies in the last 10 years:

  • Schools used higher salaries to attract teachers with the best qualifications.
  • When teacher salaries are more attractive, college students with high test scores gravitate to education courses.
  • Pay raises improved teacher retention, but the biggest impact was on less experienced teachers while the impact was weaker on experienced teachers.

          Having teachers with strong skills translated into improved performance by students, and the presence of highly skilled teacher was primarily a result of better pay.
            Then there's the debate, here and in other states, over how to reward teachers. Districts usually base salaries on longevity and education level, but some argue that this lumps good teachers in with mediocre teachers. However, attempts here by the last administration to give bonuses to good teachers ran into flak from teachers who say it's easier to look good if you're in a middle-class or affluent school where the students have every advantage. The unions have backed teachers up.
            In 2011 a landmark law in Wisconsin limited the influence of teacher unions and allowed districts to change their pay schedules. Where districts abandoned seniority pay schedules and raised pay for their most effective teachers through "flexible pay" schedules, teachers increased their classroom efforts and test scores improved. Effective teachers left schools with seniority pay schedules and migrated to schools with flexible pay. This is according to the National Bureau of Economic Research in 2019.
            Another piece of this debate is the reward itself. A 2017 study at Vanderbilt University found that bonuses, gifts and salary increases were linked to modestly improved test scores, and group incentives were more effective than individual incentives.
            A 2018 study showed that short-term bonuses and college loan forgiveness programs helped retain teachers in jobs that were difficult to fill, and direct payments to teachers were more cost effective than loan forgiveness.
            The governor and lawmakers will have to sell teacher raises to constituents, and one study produced a mixed result.
            Although most people sympathize with teachers, two polls last year found that Americans who thought teachers were poorly paid weren't always well informed about what teachers really make. When people had current salary information for local teachers, they were less likely to support higher salaries, according to a survey for Education Next magazine. Most Americans, the study said, believe teachers earn a lot less than they actually do.
            Many New Mexicans would consider a salary of $40,000 to $60,000 pretty darn good. And yet we can't ignore the positive impact of raises on teacher recruiting and the mandate of the lawsuit. Legislators will have to find the balance.

Secretaries of State must protect a voting system that’s under attack
By Sherry Robinson

All She Wrote
            For secretaries of state, the good old days were when the biggest priority was accurately counting votes. That’s still a priority, but so are cyber attacks, disinformation campaigns, bots, and phishing scams.
          “Election security is like running a marathon without a finish line. You solve one problem, another pops up,” said Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver during a recent talk to New Mexico Press Women.
          Toulouse Oliver is leading a national voter education campaign, #Trusted Information 2020, as president-elect of the National Association of Secretaries of State.
          The bipartisan initiative is intended to counter persistent sources of bad information by driving voters with questions to their election officials.
            Election integrity has two technical aspects, she explained. One is making sure voters can freely cast their ballots, and the second is protections against hacking. “We have nations attacking our system,” she said.
          Toulouse Oliver herself got a phishing email and reported it to the Department of Homeland Security. “It was of Russian origin. We definitely expect those, and we’re trained to deal with it. We’re also bracing for ransomware.”
          She said the federal government should do more, but she gives DHS credit for performing risk and vulnerability assessments. “DHS is working very hard,” she said. “DHS has been an amazing partner with us.”
          Election integrity is under attack from a third direction.
          “The biggest thing I’m concerned about is disinfomation attacks,” she said. “People get information from the internet. Often the Russians are putting out misinformation, plus bots and groups. They’re attempting to sow and foster discord. It’s not just hardware being targeted but our hearts and minds.”
          These are the texts and emails that misinform people about voting sites and dates, that distort candidates’ records and comments, that allege voter fraud when there is none.
           “Be really vigilant about what you’re consuming. Be careful about what you forward. Make sure it’s from a trusted source,” she said.
          The New Mexico Secretary of State’s Office is on most social media platforms, and legislators gave it a budget for voter education.
          Regarding voter fraud and voting irregularities, we have less to worry about here than most states.
          “Here in New Mexico we do have one of the best systems in the U. S. We were forward thinking. In 2006 the Legislature passed a law requiring paper ballots. Some saw this as a step backward, but now, regardless of what happens, we have a paper ballot to fall back on.”
          The trusty paper ballot can be used in post-election audits, spot checks, and for full recounts by hand. And when results are close, they can be recounted.
          “We’re really high on lists of voting integrity,” she said.
          To give credit where credit is due, it was former Gov. Bill Richardson who pushed for paper ballots, with support from then Secretary of State Rebecca Vigil Giron. After problems with the 2000 elections nationwide (remember hanging chads?), Richardson saw it as a way to restore confidence in the system. At the time 13 counties were already using the proposed paper system. County clerks weren’t opposed but wanted time to phase in the new systems and train employees.
          Republicans objected that it was a handout to the one company whose machines could process the ballots. A Clovis legislator asked why they were going back to the horse and buggy. The bill passed on party-line votes.
          The newest wrinkle is ranked-choice voting, which is now reality in Las Cruces and Santa Fe. “It’s just a different way of thinking about voting,” she said. With every change, voting officials have to think about cost, voter fatigue, and wear and tear on staff. The goal is always accessibility. It’s a job that’s never done.