Education and economic health

By Bill Knief

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When Councilmember Darren Cordova took the oath of office on January 2 and officially became the new Taos mayor, he made some statements concerning the relationship between education and the economic health of the community. Here’s what he said, in part:

“I take over as mayor at a time when we are facing a lot of economic challenges…and it is going to be a priority of mine to ensure that we have economic stability in our community, [because] when we have economic stability and economic development, everything else falls into place.

“…We don’t have to depend solely on tourism. While tourism and our ski season and the arts are the major components in our economy, and we must continue to support them, we must also diversify our economic base.

“I have talked with the director of UNM-Taos about how we can make Taos an educational destination. We already have the main element in place, UNM-Taos, and now we need to move to the next step in getting the infrastructure we need so we can make Taos a prestigious college town.”

Cordova went on to say that while an emphasis on education might provide a welcome boost to the economy, it could also direct strong support to the school system in general, so that, “…Everyone will look up to education as being a priority.”

Two weeks later, on January 16, the subject came up again.

“Economic development has to start with education because that’s how you begin to develop the long term workforce that we need,” Cordova said. “We must become proactive instead of reactive to the workforce that we’re getting, and I believe that starts at the elementary level, teaching the kids responsibility and how that relates to the workplace.” When that foundation has been laid, the mayor explained, a sense of responsibility combined with good social skills can become a part of the daily curriculum alongside reading, writing and math, because these are the qualities and skills young people will need later in life.

On the subject of Taos becoming an educational destination, Mayor Cordova felt that higher education was a “clean industry” that could make a positive impact on the local economy. “We can attract neighboring states to send their kids here to a nice, rural, family oriented community rather than a big city environment. Taos already has all those elements”

Meanwhile, students are enrolling for the spring semester in record numbers. As of January 23, we were already 200 students and 2,000 credit hours ahead of the same time last year. Why the sudden increase?

It could be the sea change in national politics. “He [President Obama] makes me want to be smarter. He makes me want to be more involved,” pop singer Beyonce said after performing at one of the inaugural balls.

Perhaps it’s simple economics. How many parents can send their kids out of town these days, let alone out of state for a college education? After tuition and books, what is a student supposed to live on?

Maybe it’s the quality of the educational experience. We are seeing younger students enroll in greater numbers, and that’s a healthy sign, but the lifelong learners, those people passionate about learning for its own sake, along with returning students finishing up a degree, fill many a seat in the modern classroom. Maybe we as a community are simply taking care of the serious business of getting on with our lives.

The practical side of the equation, however, is that New Mexico is currently in deficit to the tune of over 400 million dollars. Can the state continue to support higher education at current levels? Representative Roberto “Bobby” Gonzales believes it can, and will:

“Education is very sacred to New Mexico. It was the number one priority in the state of the state address this year,” he said in an interview during Enchanted Circle Day, January 22. “By reducing reserves from ten percent to eight percent we should not have to make major additional cuts, especially in education. We also have almost two billion in capital outlay, and that is being analyzed closely, especially the large statewide projects. It’s not all doom and gloom. But it’s clear that we have to reorganize and rethink some of our funding and programs. Maybe in a way it’s a push for more efficiency, and there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s a good time for oversight and audit control.”

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