Governor announces plans for $30 million literacy institute

Sep. 6—At a summit hosted at the governor's mansion Wednesday, Heather Fleming, director of programs of the New Mexico Literacy Institute, said she was "jazzed."

Fleming is a big believer in "structured literacy" — or the "science of reading" — which she described as a set of principles that make up "the most effective form of reading instruction for all students."

At the summit, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced a request she plans to make to the state Legislature for $30 million to invest in a new literacy institute that, she said, will help to provide instruction to the state's students and raise reading proficiency rates, which remain among the lowest in the nation.

Fleming believes if structured literacy is fully implemented throughout the state, proficiency rates will "shoot up." She said the approach to teaching reading and writing will act as a "force multiplier" for other educational investments and efforts.

"Part of structured literacy has to do with an understanding of other languages and the ways in which those languages connect to English," Fleming said. "Helping teachers to understand how and when and why to use first languages to support academic development is really important, too."

Lujan Grisham convened educators, experts and administrators Wednesday for a summit to focus on how schools around the state can better implement structured literacy and how to maintain accountability and measure results across student populations.

State Senate President Pro Tem Mimi Stewart, who was an elementary educator in Albuquerque Public Schools for about 30 years, said she has been working for years to implement structured literacy in New Mexico schools. The state is spending $20 million each year to retrain teachers in the structured literacy approach because many are still being trained with "old methods that don't work," Stewart said.

The new institute would both provide instruction to students who struggle with literacy as well as focus on research and training educators in evidence-based reading instruction.

It could be located at a university or as a standalone entity, Stewart said.

The planned investment in literacy comes after Lujan Grisham recently travelled to the Kansas Center for Reading with a delegation of policymakers and education experts that included Stewart.

Lujan Grisham, in an interview Wednesday, said future students will have the science of reading in every classroom.

Preliminary scores from spring 2023 show reading proficiency among third through eighth graders in New Mexico has increased by 4.3%, Lujan Grisham said in a news release. The governor depicted the improvement, as well as a rise in over graduation rates, as a result of her administration's investments in education in recent years.

"Every New Mexican can read — that has to be the goal," Lujan Grisham said in an interview Wednesday. "To build this institute, and to tie it to higher education and to make sure parents and educators have intervention support, is critical."

Improved literacy would lead to improvements across other subjects as well, Lujan Grisham said, such as science and math.

Lujan Grisham said the purpose of the summit was to build momentum for a statewide push for structured literacy education. Legislators, her administration, tribes and higher education officials are aligned on the issue, she said, and there is already broad commitment to the funding and to the programming planned.

"Everyone is on board," Lujan Grisham said. "That never happens. ... This is not a political idea; it really is an evidence-based strategy for public education."

The changes are not enough to turn around public education deficiencies around the state overnight, Lujan Grisham admitted, although she maintained the state is in compliance with the 2018 Yazzie/Martinez ruling that said the state was not doing enough to ensure at-risk students were receiving a sufficient education.

"If I was going to a judge today, could I say to every parent that every issue that every at-risk child is facing is resolved?" she said. "The answer is no. But the goal based on [the Yazzie/Martinez lawsuit] is that the answer should be, as quickly as possible, yes. And we're on our way."