Representatives Request AG's Opinion On Private Firm Getting Public School Dollars

Apr 8, 2014

Representatives Jim Trujillo (D-45) and Luciano “Lucky” Varela (D-48) jointly requested an Attorney General’s Opinion today on the constitutionality of the Santa Fe Public Schools (S.F.P.S.) recent decision to privatize its “Engage” school for drop-outs and currently enrolled students deemed by the private contractor to be at risk.  The S.F.P.S. announced it will contract with Atlantic Education Partners, a Florida-based private corporation which has never run a similar program, to create and operate a new school enrolling drop-outs from the district.  Atlantic Education Partners may also reach out and enroll students currently attending a Santa Fe public school for enrollment in its school.

“We are concerned because the Santa Fe Public Schools is creating a new school for drop-outs and currently enrolled students, and turning that school over to private hands.  Private contractors do provide many services in public schools, but when their share of the budget is ninety-percent, it concerns us that a private school program has been created with public funds,” say the Representatives in their request letter to AG King.

The request for an Opinion was made by the two powerful Santa Fe legislators after hearing the concerns of NEA-Santa Fe, the union representing employees within the S.F.P.S.  “Engage Santa Fe does sound wonderful but for one major point:” says NEA-Santa Fe President Bernice Garcia-Baca, Superintendent Boyd “is hiring a Florida-based startup for-profit company… to provide this education instead of empowering and funding S.F.P.S. employees to develop a program.”   NEA-Santa Fe is also concerned because Superintendent Boyd will be “Principal” of the school, even though he is tied to the Atlantic Education Partners the pro-privatization foundations and other groups to which the founders of that company are linked. 

Representatives Trujillo and Varela request Attorney General King to address this specific question: May a private corporation operate a public school without violating the New Mexico Constitution?  “We have serious concerns about whether this action by the Santa Fe Public Schools violates the New Mexico Constitution.  Because the Santa Fe Public Schools cover our district, this issue is very important to our constituents,” says Representative Trujillo.  

The letter requesting an AG Opinion cites specific constitutional provisions which appear to be violated by the program:

(1)   Article 12, Section III of the New Mexico Constitution.   “The schools … provided for by this constitution shall forever remain under the exclusive control of the state, and no part of the proceeds arising from the [Land Grant Permanent Fund] …, or any other funds appropriated, levied or collected for educational purposes, shall be used for the support of any sectarian, denominational or private school, college or university.”

(2)   Article XII, Section 3 which has been viewed by our courts as limiting private control of all the essential functions of a school. 

(3)   Article IX, Section 14 of the New Mexico Constitution.  This section provides, in pertinent part, “Neither the state nor any county, school district or municipality ... shall ... make any donation to or in aid of any person, association or public or private corporation ....” 

“The Board members and S.F.P.S. Attorney Zamora with whom I’ve talked understand it is the privatization of the program which is of concern.  We all share good intentions to help every single individual successfully earn their degree.  Getting an Attorney General Opinion is wise when reasonable people have such sharply different interpretations of the legality of this specific program,” says Representative Trujillo.