Education, work force training and health care are issues State Sen. Howie Morales is focusing on as the June 5 primary election day approaches.
Morales, who represents Catron and Socorro counties in the State Senate, is seeking the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor.
“It’s been going great,” Morales said in an interview with El Defensor Chieftain. “Every day I’ve been working at it. It’s a continual journey. Fortunately, I’ve been through it before.”
He believes his experience as a state senator will help him in the office.
“I really want to help state government work the way it needs to work for the residents of New Mexico, “Morales said. “I really want to be the ombudsman that the office calls for.”
At the top of his list of priorities are education issues. He called for an end of PARCC testing in an op-ed piece in The Chieftain last month.
“For years now, I’ve been concerned that we’ve overspent, overused standardized tests on our students and taking away the creativity from our educators,” Morales said. “I think we’ve been sucking out a lot of instructional time that could be better used teaching our kids.”
That does not mean he is against assessments of student and school performance.
“I believe in assessment,” Morales said. “I believe assessment is important to get a gauge where we are at. I don’t believe PARCC is the assessment we should be using. And there is a reason a lot of states across the country have already abandoned it. There is a better way to assess the students without paying them millions of dollars. “
Morales believes there are fairer and less expensive assessments out there.
“A short-assessment cycle gives teachers a better idea of where students are, where they started and where they ended up at the end of the school year,” Morales said. “There’s no reason you should wait months for the results to come in. The worst is that they are using those results as a tell-all-tale for evaluating teachers in an unfair way.”
“We need to instill some sense of value and pride into those who are sacrificing daily for our students whether it’s a bus driver, a classroom teacher, an administrator, a librarian and I can go on and on,” Morales added. “They are all there. They are educators and making a difference in our children’s lives.”
Morales said he wanted to see educators have the opportunity to be creative and utilize their skills to make sure kids are learning.
“We also need to make sure that we properly fund education,” Morales said. “It’s unfortunate what’s happening right now where it used to be more than 50 percent of our state budget used to go to K-through-12 … specifically for Socorro County, the reduced amount of money that has gone to higher ed is having an impact on our work force.”
Morales is concerned that there is less work force training going on in state schools than there was in the 1960s.
“You take a yearbook from the 1960s, and see how thick that high school yearbook is,” Morales said. “It is thick because there were so many opportunities whether it was shop or welding or electrical opportunities. … carpentry and things like this. You look at the yearbook now and see how thin it is because the opportunities aren’t there to educate our students in areas they might be interested in. I think it’s really hard on our work force.
Back then (the 1960s), they had the opportunities and the resources available to be able to gauge what they might be interested in,” Morales added. “It made our country the best in the world. Now I’m concerned we are so focused on the standardized tests that we’ve taken away these opportunities and in return, it’s really shorted out our work force and student opportunities to go into the areas they are interested in.”
Morales would like to see more vocational programs started as early as middle school “and then on to the high school and obviously a link to higher ed.”
“That’s what we’ve needed,” Morales said. “Our work force is continually shrinking. So this is something that is desperately needed.”
Morales believes positive steps were taken during this past legislative session. He said there weren’t as many budget cuts. He said infrastructure and broadband issues were addressed.
“We had a budget increase for higher education which allowed for much needed raises,” Morales said.
He said legislators were limited during the 30-day session in the last year of Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration.
“Come the next 60-day session I think we have lot of ideas that we can build on,” Morales said.
He was able to secure funding for the Socorro Senior Center.
“Even during the lean years, we had some success and bi-partisan support,” Morales said. “We saw for example the Socorro Rodeo Grounds … I think we’ve seen that as an economic benefit. We’ve worked on roads and were able to get funding for the detention center that we built there.”
“I do think there are some improvements that can be made here concerning health care, especially in the area of behavioral health,”
Morales added. “We want to make sure there are more resources for rural communities.”
Morales said he’s always wanted as a state senator to work with local governments to see what they wanted to do, and what they wanted to move forward.
“I’ve always had a good working relationship with them,” Morales said.