SANTA FE, N.M.—Teachers and their unions made a strong show of opposition on Saturday against Republican Gov. Susana Martinez's educational policies, urging senators to reject her choice to lead New Mexico's agency overseeing public schools.

The Senate Rules Committee heard public testimony for a second day on whether Public Education Secretary Hanna Skandera should be confirmed and allowed to remain in the cabinet-level position she's held since Martinez took office in 2011. It's up to the committee to decide whether to forward Skandera's nomination to the Democratic-controlled Senate for a confirmation vote.

After a five-hour hearing, the committee didn't vote. Committee chairwoman Linda Lopez said lawmakers likely will start questioning Skandera at a meeting next week but the date hasn't been set.

It's possible that Skandera could continue to languish without a Senate vote, and that would allow her to remain on the job.

But if the Senate rejects Skandera, she will be ousted from her post and it will represent a political repudiation of the governor's agenda for changing public schools. The Senate last rejected a cabinet secretary in 1997, when Republican Gov. Gary Johnson was in office.

Educational unions object to the top policies advocated by the Martinez administration, including merit pay for teachers, a system for assigning grades of A-to-F for schools, a teacher evaluation system linked to student performance on standardized tests and a plan to hold back third-graders who can't read proficiently.


Many of Martinez's school proposals mirror initiatives implemented in Florida during the tenure of former GOP Gov. Jeb Bush, who Skandera once worked for as a deputy commissioner of education. Critics say a nonprofit foundation established by Bush has influenced development of the Martinez administration's school improvement agenda.

Skandera drew opposition from educational union officials at Friday's confirmation hearing, but teachers turned out in larger numbers Saturday to fill the Senate chambers where the committee moved because its traditional hearing room couldn't handle the crowd.

Opponents contend that Skandera doesn't meet a constitutional requirement for an education secretary to be a "qualified, experienced educator." She's never been a public school teacher or administrator.

Carol Brown, an official with the Rio Rancho School Employees Union, said Skandera was "ignorant of our state, its history and its people."

"Our leaders need experience in New Mexico, not California or Florida,"said Brown.

Michael Corwin, executive director of Independent Source PAC, a union-funded group, said Skandera should be rejected because of alleged misconduct, including allowing the use of state resources to develop a list of non-union teachers for the governor's political adviser, hiring the wife of governor's chief of staff for a department job and paying a consultant with ties to the Bush foundation to help draft legislation.

Skandera said after the hearing that it was "completely out of line" for the committee to provide time for what she described as false allegations.

Her supporters, including several school district superintendents and former GOP Attorney General Hal Stratton, testified that Skandera has a background in educational policy and that qualifies her to run the state agency administering school policies.

"For too many years New Mexico has ranked among the lowest in the nation when it comes to education and student performance. I for one am tired of the trend and the mediocrity. New Mexico is capable of much better," said Allan Tapia, superintendent of Bernalillo Public School District. "Hanna Skandera has brought new ideas and initiatives to the state. She's looking at our educational institutions with a fresh set of eyes. We cannot continue to do things the same and expect a different result."


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