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Summer 2019 News – Religious Liberty Gala, Upcoming Supreme Court Case, and More!

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While no year is without challenges, this year has been one of our most successful years in recent association history. Mileposts from the year include:

  • State Supreme Court victory in the Instructional Materials lending case.
  • Defeat of HB 45 which sought to eliminate instructional materials funding for our schools.
  • Based upon the court’s ruling, $531,000 was allocated to qualified non-public schools for instructional materials for the 2019-20 year.
  • Membership levels remain strong with several new schools joining the association.

Becket Fund for Religious Liberty Gala 2019

It was an honor to be invited to the Becket Fund Gala in New York City in May. This year’s recipient of the Canterbury Medal for Religious Liberty is the chaplain of the U.S. Senate, Dr. Barry Black. Many dignitaries including Sen. Orin Hatch (UT) were also in attendance. Our thanks again to Becket for hosting my trip, as well as the incredible role they played in our State Supreme Court victory. -Dr. John Foreman

Professional Development Workshop dates 2019-20

This year’s focus will be on board member training, governance models, alignment to mission and other key aspects of a successful board. Also included will be training on the effective relationship between the board and school leadership – and more. Board training is a common requirement for accrediting agencies. What better way to strengthen your board as you also meet a critical requirement for your next site team visit!

  • October 4 – Hosted by Mesilla Valley Christian School in Las Cruces
  • April 3 – Hosted by Hope Christian School in Albuquerque

More information will be provided as we get closer to the start of the new school year. Mark your calendar now and plan to attend this excellent time of professional development.

NMANS “School Leader of the Year”

NMANS is pleased to announce that Mr. Andy Watson of Albuquerque Academy has been selected as our “School Leader of the Year” for 2019. Those who know Andy well appreciate that he has been a long-time advocate for private schooling, an innovative leader and one who has been instrumental in many key private school issues around our state in his tenure at AA.

Congratulations Andy and thank you for your many years of tireless service to our non-public schools in New Mexico!

U.S. Supreme Court to hear Montana Blaine Amendment case

Similar in several ways to our own State Supreme Court case of this past year (also a Blaine Amendment case), the high court has now agreed to hear a related case from Montana. Based upon a state law that equips parents who wish to send their children to a private school a way to do so.

In 2015 state lawmakers passed their first school choice program which allowed donors (via qualified scholarship programs similar to Arizona) a state tax credit of $150.

This is an exciting story to watch and one which may provide an opening for future similar decisions in New Mexico. To read the full story visit the June 30, 2019 online edition of the Wall Street Journal.

Membership Invoices

Invoices for 2019-20 NMANS membership will be mailed the first week of August and due by September 15. Beginning this fall only member schools will receive our regular email updates. While we will continue to provide basic information to all non-public schools, we will be limiting our more comprehensive services to our members.

New Mexico court shuts the book on religious discrimination

WASHINGTON, D.C. – New Mexico kids won equal access to quality educational resources today, regardless of where they go to school. In Moses v. Ruszkowski, a group of activists sued the State of New Mexico to end a textbook program designed to ensure all students receive a quality education. The New Mexico Supreme Court’s ruling says students can’t be denied state-approved textbooks and other learning materials simply because they attend a religiously affiliated school. The decision comes after the 2017 Supreme Court ruling in Trinity Lutheran v. Comer. 

New Mexico is ranked lowest of all 50 states in terms of education. The textbook lending program seeks to lift the state’s literacy levels by ensuring that all children have equal access to quality textbooks. The program especially benefits low-income and minority students living in rural areas.  But in 2012, activists sued the state arguing that the textbook lending program violates the state constitution because students at religiously affiliated schools can participate on equal footing with all other students. Today’s court ruling rejects the activists’ arguments, stating, “The textbook loan program furthers New Mexico’s legitimate public interest in promoting education and eliminating illiteracy.”

“In shutting the book on religious discrimination, the New Mexico Supreme Court has opened access to quality textbooks for all students,” said Eric Baxter, vice president and senior counsel at Becket, which is defending the New Mexico Association of Nonpublic Schools (NMANS) and the state’s textbook program. “All kids deserve an education free from discrimination.”

The lawsuit relied on a discriminatory 19th century state law—called a Blaine Amendment—that has been used in New Mexico and across the country to keep religious organizations from participating in government programs on the same terms as everyone else. For example, activists have used Blaine Amendments to try to stop children with disabilities from attending schools that best meet their needs, to prevent schools from making their playgrounds safer, to stop food kitchens from helping the poor, and to close service providers that help former prisoners successfully reintegrate into society. The Court acknowledged the Blaine Amendments’ malicious history, noting that “New Mexico was caught up in the nationwide movement to eliminate Catholic influence from the school system.”  

“New Mexico’s kids are better off today because the New Mexico Supreme Court rejected 19th Century religious discrimination,” said John Foreman, state director of the New Mexico Association of Non-public Schools.

Both the trial court and the New Mexico Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the textbook lending program, but in 2015 the New Mexico Supreme Court ruled it was unconstitutional based on the Blaine Amendment. In 2017 Becket appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. Following a 7-2 ruling in Trinity Lutheran, a similar case involving Missouri’s Blaine Amendment, the Supreme Court ordered the New Mexico Supreme Court to reconsider its decision on the textbook lending program. Today’s decision reinstates the textbook lending program.

Fall 2018 News

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2018 Leadership Conference

This year’s administrative conference was hosted by Evangel Christian School (Albuquerque) and featured a variety of workshops presented by school leaders from around the state. New for this year was a leadership track specifically designed for both new and experienced school administrators.

Kendra Mathison of All Saints Catholic School in Roswell was selected as the 2018 NMANS “Administrator of the Year”!

Study Shows School Vouchers Save Taxpayers Billions
The October edition of the CAPE Outlook newsletter features a fascinating article on the reality of school vouchers and how these programs have saved taxpayers billions of dollars since 2015. The article can be found at: http://www.capenet.org/pdf/Outlook438.pdf and may be an excellent article for you to share with your board and parents.

The question we so often receive at NMANS is – why?

Why – Is our state still one of the few that does not have school choice? (33 other states now have some version of school choice)
Why – When our annual (public school) test scores are among the lowest in the nation and New Mexico high school drop rates are now the highest in the nation, are lawmakers so unwilling to make changes?
Why – Do we continue to not allow all parents (regardless of income) a choice in where they send their children to school?
As we have seen in the (still pending) textbook lending program court case, we often fight a private school stereotype that asserts all parents who send their children to private schools are wealthy. Therefore, why allow more funding to those who already have plenty?
Unfortunately, many of our lawmakers also take this position. Some who support school choice tell of being harassed or politically threatened by outside groups should they support such legislation in Santa Fe. Others contend that in order to support private schools, money must be taken away from public schools. (Articles such as this provide solid evidence that dispels this myth.)
Those who do support school choice often state that in the current political climate they would not receive the needed support from other lawmakers to get a bill to committee. What is clear is that the status quo is not working, especially for many lower income children in our state trapped in low performing schools.
Regional “think tank” organizations such as the Rio Grande Foundation are among those who link low economic opportunities to low performing schools. Many corporations (who provide many jobs) are reluctant to invest in states where educational statistics are far behind that of other states.
During the Leadership Conference a presentation was made which demonstrated how our state actually saves an estimated $277 million annually when parents send their children to non-public schools. Thus, the financial obligation upon public schools is actually reduced.
With an annual state budget (2017) of $2.42 billion dollars for K-12 education, the question is raised as to why the textbook lending program (estimated at $1.5 million) has become so controversial when this indirect funding is such a very small percentage of the whole? Added to this point is a more pragmatic one – why we are not supporting our most successful schools?
NMANS Welcomes New Board Members
Voted onto the board during the conference were Mrs. Kendra Mathison, principal of All Saints Catholic School in Roswell and Mr. Bob Ippel, Executive Director of Rehoboth Christian School in Gallup. We welcome our new board members and look forward to working with them this year!
NMANS would also like to express our gratitude for the excellent service of retiring board member, Dr. Jeannette Suter. Jeanette served as the Superintendent of Catholic schools for the Diocese of Gallup and has now moved closer to family in California.

Spring 2018 News and Updates

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Textbook (IMF) case returns to State Supreme Court May 7

For the past two years NMANS has been keeping our non-public schools updated regarding the court battle to retain (and now recapture) our long- provided funding for textbooks and other instructional materials for our students and families.

A significant change occurred last summer when the U.S. Supreme Court remanded our case back to the New Mexico Supreme Court based upon their ruling in Trinity Lutheran Church v. Comer. Our case is now back at the state level for oral arguments on May 7 in Santa Fe.

If overturned, this would return funding to all New Mexico K-12 private schools for instructional materials including textbooks. Over $1.3 million in annual funding was lost due to this 2015 decision.

Our case is being presented by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty of Washington, D.C., along with a law firm in Albuquerque.

2018 Legislation Session Highlights

  • HB 25 – Provides college scholarships to survivors of Fire Fighters who have lost their lives in the line of duty.
  • SB 97 – Expedites teacher licensure for spouses of military families.
  • SB 119 – Increased minimum salaries for Level 1, 2 and 3A public school teachers.
  • SB 239 – Grant funding for school safety improvements. This bill was of great concern as the bill included only public and charter schools, private schools were excluded. The bill was sponsored by Senator George Munoz (D).

    Prior to final signing, Senator Munoz and Governor Martinez were both contacted by NMANS asking that private schools be included in this important student safety bill. Unfortunately neither office returned our emails or phone calls.

     

Troubling Statistics for our State

In multiple reports New Mexico (public) schools are now ranked the lowest in the nation (#50) in standardized test scores and college readiness, according to Newscape News and U.S. News and World Report. A February 12 an Albuquerque Journal article reported a related statistic showing that our state is now #1 in high school drop rates at 71%, an increase of 3% since last year.

As we continue into admissions season for our non- public schools, it is a great opportunity to inform prospective parents of the impressive statistics your school may be generating each year.

Non-public schools again excel in 2018! National Merit Scholarship program

Last spring 1.6 million students from 22,000 high schools participated in PSAT testing, the qualifier for the National Merit Scholarship program. In New Mexico 100 students qualified as semi-finalists, of which 38% attend private schools including homeschooling. Statewide approximately 10% of all students attend non-public schools.

Legal and Legislative Updates: December 2017

Tax Cut Bill passes in Congress and signed by Presidential Trump (12.23.17)

In mid-December both the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate passed the Tax Cut (Reform) Bill of 2017, which President Trump signed into law on December 23.  Of the many provisions included in this bill (H.R.25), here a few highlights that impact non-public schools –

  • Expansion of 529 Accounts – Allows families to cover costs associated with K-12 education, including private and homeschool families.  Previously this was allowed only for college education, now expanded to also cover K-12.
  • Tax-free tuition benefits – Continues to allow K-12 private school employers to provide tax free tuition benefits to their faculty and staff.  
  • Tax-free employee educational assistance – Up to $5,250 annually (for such expenses as graduate school degrees) has been retained.
  • Annual tax deduction of $250 for classroom supplies – Has also been retained.  

NMANS wishes to thank all of the many schools and individuals in New Mexico, along with CAPE and state CAPE affiliates nationwide for their emails and phone calls to their representatives during this process.  Your efforts made a great impact and helped to protect /provide the above benefits for all private schools in America!

Textbook Loan Program case heads back to State Supreme Court (12.18.17)

In November, 2014 the New Mexico Supreme Court voted 5-0 to overturn the two previous appellate court rulings which protected the textbook loan program for all schools, including non-public schools.  The case now known as “Moses v. Skandera”, has drawn national attention and has many states and legal experts carefully watching the outcome.

In December, 2014 NMANS, along with others (including the Becket Fund for Religious Liberties) brought the case back into court in the hope of getting the decision overturned.  Much of the court’s decision rest upon an outdated clause in many state constitutions known as the “Blaine amendment”.  In hearing this case in 2014, the New Mexico State Supreme Court acknowledged its (Blaine amendments’) bias toward the Catholic Church and Catholic schools.

Historical background: In 1875 Congressman James Blaine (ME) introduced an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to stop government funding of Catholic Schools, as Blaine was a Protestant Christian and felt that only evangelical Christianity should be taught in public schools.  While the amendment failed to gain entry into the Constitution, many states (29 in total, including New Mexico -which is astounding considering the long history and charitable work of the Catholic Church in our state) adopted similar language now known as “mini-Blaines”.  SCOTUS Justice Clarence Thomas once described these “mini-Blaines” as “antiquated and historically bigoted amendments”, yet they continue on today and have become a basis for the State Supreme Court decision of 2014.  

2016 saw little change in the status of this case, although many statewide including NMANS continued their efforts to overturn the verdict in the hope of returning over $1 million in instructional materials back to the children and families of our non-public schools in New Mexico.  

June, 2017 – A breakthrough occurs as SCOTUS overturns a similar state level decision in “Trinity Lutheran Church of Colombia (MO)”.  The case originated when Trinity Lutheran’s pre-school was prohibited from participating in a state grant program which provided playground safety materials for schools in the St. Louis area.  In making this 6-3 decision the Supreme Court also remanded several other cases back to the states, including our case here in New Mexico.  (NMANS filed a cert petition to SCOTUS for appeal in 2016.)  On December 18, 2017 NMANS, along with the Becket Fund and an Albuquerque based law firm filed for our case to be reheard in 2018.  NMANS is optimistic that this decision can be overturned based upon the recent ruling of SCOTUS.  

https://www.abqjournal.com/865359/all-nm-students-deserve-statefunded-textbooks.html  

Winter 2017-2018 News and Updates

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NMANS makes national news

This month in the CAPE (Council for American Private Education) newsletter the New Mexico textbook case is featured as the lead story. Many non-public schools and private school association nationwide are carefully watching the outcome of this significant religious liberty court case.

Overview of the case to date

  • Background – For many years New Mexico has allowed both public and private school students access to the state textbook loan program.
  • 2014 – Based upon the complaint of two people, the case is taken to Appellate Court for review. The court denies the motion (two separate occasions) and textbook program is left intact.
  • November, 2015 – State Supreme Court rules in a 5-0 decision to overturn the Appellate Court decisions in Moses v. Skandera.
  • Becket Fund for Religious Liberty partners with NMANS to lead efforts to overturn.
  • December, 2015 – State Supreme Court decision is appealed, although the court did not change their position they did re-write their opinion in the event the case was later challenged in a higher court.
  • June, 2017 – SCOTUS overturns a religious liberties case (Trinity Lutheran Church – MO), in doing so remands several similar state level cases (NM, CO and OK) for rehearing,
  • November, 2017 – Brief is filed by Becket Fund to State Supreme Court in preparation for rehearing of the case.

Cases such as ours are based in large part upon an attempt in 1876 by Senator James Blaine (ME) for a federal constitutional amendment which targeted funding for Catholic schools. While this effort failed, many states adopted similar measures, in total 37 states currently have “mini-Blaine” amendments in their state constitution – including New Mexico. (An interesting note – 4 states (NJ, VT, VA, CT) who do not have Blaine amendments were in the ‘Top 10’ nationally in test scores for 2016-17 with 3 others ranked in the ‘Top 20’. New Mexico is ranked last at #50.)

Visit capenet.org to read the full story via the CAPE website.

Summer 2017 News and Updates

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SCOTUS Victory for Trinity Lutheran – What does this mean for New Mexico?

On June 26 the U.S. Supreme Court voted 7-2 in favor of Trinity Lutheran Church / Pre-School (MO) regarding the use of state funds for a private school playgrounds. This decision now “vacates” the November, 2015 ruling of the New Mexico Supreme Court and requires them to re-consider their ruling based upon the decision of the U.S. Supreme Court. While this does not fully settle the textbook lending/ funding issue here in New Mexico just yet, it is a substantial step in the right direction.

From the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty –

This is the Supreme Court’s second such ruling in two days. Yesterday, in Trinity Lutheran v. Comer, the U.S. Supreme Court protected religious organizations’ right to participate in Missouri’s “safe playgrounds” initiative. Both the Missouri and New Mexico cases challenged Blaine Amendments, which are 19th century provisions in many state constitutions that discriminate against religious organizations. Today’s order requires the New Mexico Supreme Court to give the textbook program “further consideration in light of Trinity Lutheran.”

“In preventing skinned knees or ensuring kids learn their A-B-C’s, states are getting a clear message from the Supreme Court: they can’t exclude people from participating in government programs because of their religion,” said Eric Baxter, senior counsel at Becket.

We are still awaiting word from the PED regarding the possibility of the textbook lending program being reinstated until this case is reconsidered, which may take some time as court cases often do. This story has received national attention, NMANS will keep you updated via email as events unfold.

School Choice Coalition update

This past winter and spring NMANS hosted seven regional meetings to discuss the possibility of forming a school choice coalition to bring some type of parental choice options to our families. The response was overwhelming as many indicated their support to see this goal become a reality.

In June the NMANS board met and spent the day in discussion regarding how to best shape our strategy, networking with other state and national organizations with similar goals, linking communication between the coalition and our schools, etc.

Over the course of the summer the board will be refining this strategy and we will be sharing this plan with schools in the fall. As we have learned from other states who have taken similar steps, the process is not a quick one and which will take the best efforts of us all. Grassroots involvement will be the key!

Congratulations to the 2017 NMANS TOY and AOY winners!

NMANS is excited to announce that Kathy Bosscher of Zuni Christian Mission School has been named 2017 Administrator of the Year and Jill Malone of Grace Baptist Academy in Farmington has been named the 2017 Teacher of the Year.

Kathy Bosscher is retiring this year from her leadership positon at ZCMS, where she has devoted much of her professional career to the school and its mission. During Kathy’s tenure the school enjoyed years of stability and impact locally, as well the recent completion of a 7-year building project that includes new facilities for both the school and church on the Zuni pueblo.

Jill Malone has taught at Grace Baptist Academy in Farmington for the past 19 years. Students and staff members describe Jill as one who is, “caring, smart, and teaches in a way that all can understand”. Among her professional accomplishments at GBA Mrs. Malone is known for producing high SAT scores from her students, it is common for her class to score in the top 10%-20% nationally on annual SAT tests.

Congratulations to both of our 2017 winners, we will publicly recognize both Kathy and Jill on October 20 at the conference!

NMANS Executive Director named to NMAA Commission

Recently Dr. John Foreman, NMANS Executive Director, was appointed by the NMAA to fulfill the seat vacated by Pete McFarland of Sandia Prep who retired this summer after 42 years of service to the school. We wish to congratulate Pete on his retirement and thank him for all he has done to represent private school athletics on the NMAA Commission for many years. John will complete this unexpired term through December.

A special words of thanks to a statewide leader in private schooling

NMANS would like to extend a special word of gratitude to Troy Williamson for his many years of leadership and faithful service to our board and non- public schools in our state. Troy serves at Menaul School in Albuquerque and over the years as taken many roles of leadership in both NMANS as well as Educate New Mexico.

Thanks Troy for all you have done, we are a better association because of your time on the board!

Our Mission:

To be an advocate for all children attending non-public schools in New Mexico. Our purpose is to assist students by receiving the benefits of diversity, free choice, and excellence in education through collaboration and communication.

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