SANTA FE, N.M. (KRQE) – In the midst of a legislative session filled with debates over education, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham is pushing a new bill aimed at supporting special education across the state. The bill would go along with a $33.1 million budget boost she’s suggested.
Sponsored by Rep. Elizabeth “Liz” Thomson (D-Abq.), House Bill 285 would create an Office of Special Education. The director of which would be chosen by the Governor, and would be exempt from the normal re-organization abilities of the Department of Education Secretary (I.e. although the Secretary has the ability to consolidate all other divisions within the Education Department in order to increase efficiency, they couldn’t touch the new Office of Special Education.)
“All of our kids deserve the best education possible,” Thomson said in a press release. “By creating the Office of Special Education, we will ensure that our schools are inclusive and that children with disabilities and learning differences get the resources they need to succeed and thrive in the classroom and beyond.”
Among other things, the bill would provide more training for special educators. In particular, it would focus training on things like required student protections, implementation of Individualized Education Plans, engagement and communication with parents, students, and educational decision-makers, de-escalation practices, positive behavioral supports, and other related interventions, and structured literacy.
The bill would also create a mechanism for salary increases for licensed school employees supporting children with disabilities. And it aims to expand oversight and accountability, according to the Governor’s Office.
In recent years, New Mexico has been making changes to statewide special education, and bill supporters say this would add to recent progress. In 2021, the state established a Special Education Ombud within the New Mexico Developmental Disabilities Council. The role of the Ombud and Council is to help improve the quality of life for New Mexicans with disabilities.
“The Special Education Act begins a long-awaited transformation for special education in New Mexico,” Katie Stone, parent, and vice-chair of the New Mexico Developmental Disabilities Council, said in a press release supporting the bill. “Empowering an Office of Special Education to provide oversight and accountability will lead to improved educational outcomes for disabled students and more support for the teachers and schools who educate our kids.”