HOBBS, N.M. – New Mexico schools have ranked at the bottom for years and parents, lawmakers and others are concerned the state is worse off now with no in-person learning due to the pandemic.
Public Education Secretary Ryan Stewart during a recent legislative meeting addressed a significant drop in enrollment this fall, estimated at roughly 4%. He said more than 12,000 students did not inform schools about why they left, with no indication of a transfer or pivot to home schooling.
Months of data processing and cross-referencing by department officials have accounted for around 5,000 of the students. The vast majority had switched to private schools, Bureau of Indian Education schools, or moved out of state.
Local school leaders in Hobbs and Lovington questioned the state's data, saying they can account for the students who did not enroll in their districts this year. They submitted enrollment information to the state earlier this year.
"They have that data, and just didn’t look at it. ... It’s just frustrating that they sent out bad information,” Hobbs Superintendent TJ Parks told the Hobbs News-Sun.
In Lea County, more than 1,600 students have left the area's school districts.
Many have gone to Texas because that state is allowing students to attend class in person. Texas schools also rank higher in the quality of education offered, coming in near the middle of the rankings while New Mexico hovers at the bottom.
Attending school in Texas isn’t an easy option as districts there have a residency requirement.
Seminole Independent School District Assistant Superintendent Sylvia Suarez said there have been about 62 Lea County students who have moved into the Texas district to attend Seminole schools. The district is expecting another 17 students when school resumes on Jan. 5.
She said the district gets calls almost every day from parents in New Mexico about enrolling their students in Seminole schools.
Amber Cervantes said she moved to Seminole because her three children were falling further behind with New Mexico’s online system.
“They’re not getting an education here,” she told the News-Sun. “They have no activities, no sports. In Seminole, they can go to school full time. I think going to Texas is the best thing for my children to get an education.”
Hobbs Municipal Schools had an enrollment of about 10,000 students last year. That's down around 10% this year, according to numbers compiled by the district. Of the 1,232 students lost by the Hobbs district, about one quarter ended up in Texas and another 28% opted for home schooling.
Even the 58 Hobbs students who were unaccounted for aren’t truly missing, as administrators have a good idea of where those students are but can’t verify the information.
Eunice Schools Superintendent Dwain Haynes also is dealing with an enrollment decline. He has a positive outlook on schools opening again and expects many students to come back once that happens.
Haynes said the economy in New Mexico has played a part in students and their families leaving.
“Some have left because they just have to go get a job in the oilfield in a different area until we see what is going to happen here,” he said. “I believe with all my heart that once we open up our schools and extracurricular activities, we’re going to see some positive things happen for Lea County schools.”
As the second largest district in the county, Lovington has seen a drop of around 300 students.
“We’ve had some who are choosing to home school, because they are wanting hands on,” Superintendent LeAnne Gandy said. “We have some who have gone to private school, again for the face-to-face because they don’t have the restrictions we do. And, honestly, we’ve had numerous kids go to Texas.”