SANTA FE, New Mexico — School districts across New Mexico will be allowed to bring students back into classrooms early next month, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced during her State of the State speech on Tuesday afternoon.
In a major pull-back of restrictions that were based on county-level Covid-19 case rates and hospital capacity, the governor said “every school district in the state will be able to welcome all ages of students safely back to the classroom on Feb. 8" under three options:
- All schools -- elementary and secondary -- in all counties will be eligible to enter the hybrid mode, which means bringing back up to 50 percent of students at a time in order to maintain social distancing and to keep students in smaller cohorts to avoid virus transmission;
- Districts and schools with fewer than 100 students may bring back all students in a 5:1 ratio with no more than six people per enclosed indoor space;
- Districts/schools not ready to welcome back students into a full hybrid model may expand small-group instruction to all grades -- maintaining cohorts -- with up to 50 percent of students participating at a time.
In Las Cruces, school officials told ABC-7 that they will make a decision on reopening at the Feb. 2 board meeting.
Lujan Grisham’s announcement followed growing pressure to reopen schools, as the vast majority of students statewide have been studying online only as a precaution against the virus.
“I believe the planning and hard work has paid off, and our state has developed a solid, epidemiologically-sound plan for a safe expansion of in-person learning for all age groups, supported by union leadership,” Lujan Grisham said in her virtual address to the Legislature.
Also in her speech Tuesday, Lujan Grisham outlined a $7.3 billion general fund spending plan for the fiscal year starting on July 1, 2021 — an increase of 3.3% that emphasizes economic relief, public education and mental health services.
She urged legislators to approve increased spending on higher education, health care and aid to small businesses, while announcing new details of her economic relief platform and touting state achievements in coronavirus testing.
Here's a roundup....
Lujan Grisham says her approach to economic recovery from the pandemic will involve increased state spending and be a departure from the austerity-minded approach of her Republican predecessor, Gov. Susana Martinez.
New Mexico can draw on $2.5 billion in financial reserves as it seeks to sustain vital public services in the midst of severe economic distress brought on by the pandemic and companion public health orders.
She also called on the Legislature to improve a small business loan program to unlock $200 million in aid and to make another $200 million available in rent relief to small businesses.
About $40 million in low-interest loans were allotted to small businesses last year in response to the economic downturn.
The governor urged the legislature to commit half of annual infrastructure spending — about $200 million — to high-speed internet infrastructure as school districts struggle with barriers to online learning, especially in remote, rural areas.
With enrollment plunging at New Mexico's colleges and universities, the governor renewed her call for “opportunity scholarships” to cover the cost of tuition and fees for in-state undergraduate students.
She says an additional $22 million would allow 30,000 more New Mexico residents to access two years of college without financial strain.
Lujan Grisham renewed her call for legislators to broaden cannabis sales to recreational marijuana to create jobs and boost government income from taxes.
She also is asking the Legislature to steer more money toward local businesses by reforming the state procurement process. Newly proposed legislation backed by the governor and Democratic legislators aims to boost state contracting with businesses owned by women, Native Americans and other minority groups.
The governor is touting the job-creating potential of public investments in companies that monitor greenhouse gas emissions by the oil industry.
Lujan Grisham is promoting a bill that would increase state health care subsidies for families and individuals of moderate incomes earning too much to qualify for Medicaid.
The initiative is aimed at expanding health insurance coverage to an estimated 23,000 residents and reduce insurance premium payments for tens of thousands of additional people, the governor said.
The proposed budget from the executive branch also would increase spending on suicide prevention services.