State Reps. Luciano "Lucky" Varela and Jim Trujillo, both Santa Fe Democrats, are asking the state Attorney General's office to weigh in on the constitutionality of a Santa Fe Public Schools program aimed at getting dropouts back into the school system.
Engage Santa Fe, a new school approved last month by the SFPS Board of Education, is intended to recruit local high school dropouts to obtain their high school diploma. The controversy comes with an SFPS contract that will task Florida-based Atlantic Education Partners, a private company, with the job of recruiting the students and staffing the school.
Varela and Trujillo take issue with Engage Santa Fe's funding coming from public coffers. As a part of the contract, SFPS is dedicating 90 percent of its state and federal money for dropouts to Atlantic Education Partners. Trujillo criticizes the move as "trying to privatize education."
"Giving 90 percent of the [public education] funding formula to private education is going too far," Trujillo says.
Both lawmakers drafted a letter today asking Attorney General Gary King to opine on whether giving public money to Engage violates a section of the New Mexico Constitution that bars spending from the Land Grant Permanent Fund "for the support of any sectarian, denominational or private school, college or university."
Trujillo says he's concerned that the move establishes a bad precedent in prompting private schools to start asking for the state money. But SFPS has stated that the contract doesn't violate the law because the Engage school is still technically considered an SFPS program.
"We're not privatizing anything that is currently in the public school
sector," board member Steve Carillo said at the March 18 meeting. "It's just very important that the public understand this is an entity of Santa Fe Public Schools."
Though the local arm of the National Education Association sent a letter to the school board urging them to reject the contract, only board member Glen Wikle voted against it. Wikle stated before the vote that he didn't believe the district could control the school and criticized the contract with Atlantic as representing "a new foothold of privatization."
"In the private industry it’s about return on investment," he said at the meeting. "You put money in and you expect to get more money out. That’s what’s happening here."
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