BY PAUL GESSING
Rio Grande Foundation
After nearly 16 months of COVID 19 and related policies, New Mexico is finally reopening on July 1. Recently, New Mexico Education Secretary Ryan Stewart who spent most of the pandemic in Philadelphia “leading” his department remotely, wrote what I can only describe as a delusional defense of New Mexico schools’ response to COVID 19.
The article discusses at length his Department’s efforts to get staff vaccinated and keep staff and students “safe” during the pandemic, but honestly, we already knew that. Way back in October of 2020 Brown University economist Emily Oster writing in The Atlantic, noted “Schools Aren’t Super-Spreaders.”
And, while COVID outbreaks occasionally interrupted in-person schooling throughout the pandemic, there is zero evidence that schools that remained open to in-person learning throughout Europe and the US resulted in the virus spreading to teachers, let alone increased rate of teacher deaths. New Mexico students should have been in school, in-person all along.
Here in New Mexico they were not; in fact, most students had been out of their classrooms full-time for more than a year when PED completely reopened the schools on April 5. And, according to Burbio, a site tracking school reopenings during COVID, New Mexico students lost the 5th-most classroom time of any in the nation.
We don’t know exactly how much harm this loss of in-person schooling will do to our children, but education experts agree that it will be harmful. We may not know just how harmful for some time as the State waived its standardized test requirement.
And, as if we need to be reminded, we know that New Mexico students were already badly trailing their peers in other states. The Kids Count annual report ranked New Mexico’s education performance 50th before the pandemic.
Because of the challenges New Mexico’s young people already face relative to their peers in other states and because Secretary Stewart recently took a “victory lap” relating to the Administration’s performance, it was particularly important to take a closer look at the data. But, the Administration’s foolish policies towards New Mexico children don’t stop there.
Mandating masks for student athletes, especially those participating in outdoor, non-contact and naturally social distanced programs such as youth baseball and softball, golf, and cross-country is absurd. Dana Gillmer, director of the United States Specialty Sports Association recently told Rio Grande Foundation that to his knowledge, “New Mexico is the only state in the country still requiring youth participants to wear masks while actively participating in these sports.”
Focusing on the impact of this Administration’s COVID policies on our children is important for many reasons, but it is not a platitude to say that children are our future and that in the last decade, New Mexico has been losing young people to other states. Anecdotally, that trend was accelerated during the pandemic.
But, COVID and the Administration’s lockdown response impacted all of us. While they deserve credit for rolling out the vaccine, the Lujan Grisham lockdown didn’t do much to save New Mexican lives. According to WorldoMeters, our State had the 13th-highest COVID death rate among US states.
And, according to Wallethub, New Mexico’s unemployment rate which was high before the pandemic, has experienced one of the slowest recoveries in the nation from COVID.
As New Mexico continues to reopen and COVID recedes into the background (and the 2022 election approaches), the Administration’s response to COVID will be a major issue. According to the data (aside from vaccinations) Lujan Grisham’s response has been wanting.
The Rio Grande Foundation is an independent, non-partisan, tax-exempt research and educational organization dedicated to promoting prosperity for New Mexico based on principles of limited government, economic freedom and individual responsibility.