Vote 4 NM: Tracking the money in the education system
October 23, 2018 10:19 PM
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M.— Everyone says they want the same things: quality teachers, state-of-the-art technology and the resources to get New Mexico children to the top of those education rankings.
But in July, a New Mexico judge ruled merely wanting success in the classroom is not enough.
"Out of all students in New Mexico only one in four can read grade level and only one in three do math at grade level," said Lauren Winkler, a staff attorney at the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty.
She is one of the attorneys who worked on the case to sue New Mexico over our education policies, mainly for not giving students, especially those at risk, the resources to succeed.
"This case is really about providing programs to students to provide opportunities for all students to ensure that they are college and career ready," said Winkler.
Judge Sarah Singleton agreed that New Mexico is not properly funding education, setting an April 2019 deadline for policymakers to address the shortcomings.
"Children sometimes come to kindergarten and they're developmentally like a 3-year-old," said Dr. Veronica Garcia, the Superintendent of Santa Fe Public Schools.
The Santa Fe Public School district was a plaintiff in that lawsuit.
"We are inadequately funded because we do not have the funding to provide the services that our children need to be successful," said Dr. Garcia.
New Mexico currently spends nearly $3 billion on education. Officials with the New Mexico Public Education Department said funding is at an all-time high, with $450 million in increased funding over Governor Martinez's eight years in office.
While the state is spending more money on education as a whole, many wonder where that money going.
Let's look at the money designated for instruction or in-the-classroom spending. From 2016 and 2017 to 2017 and 2018 that money decreased by nearly $34-million.
During that same time period, the budget for support services for both students and instruction decreased by $50 million.
The department did not provide a breakdown for the 2018-2019 school years.
Here’s what Education Secretary Christopher Ruszkowski said on Eye on New Mexico shortly after the judge's ruling came down.
"What I would say to everyone listening right now is to put kids first every single day, to always worry about our students, our student achievement, parents and families and what they want and what they deserve," said Ruszkowski. "I have too many families and parents and kids and teachers saying we're on the right track."
The PED said millions more are going to early literacy programs, the growth of Pre-k, and other initiatives have proven to improve student success. But are those investments reaching all of our kids?
"Let's be honest with the public, all of those programs are not available to every single district. Sometimes you get it, sometimes you don't but there are certain districts that have seen consistent growth that have been consistently funded with those special programs," said Dr. Garcia.
State lawmakers are of course taking a close look at education funding, too.
"You know the legislature year after year would incrementally increase funding a little bit for these programs but it's just a little drop in the bucket basically every year," said Winkler.
House Representative G Andres Romero is vice-chair of the House Legislative Education Committee.
He said Judge Singleton's decision is somewhat of a wake-up call. Maybe there were red flags the legislature overlooked.
"I think hindsight is always 20/20," said Romero. "So yeah, definitely there were areas we could have put money and we probably should have but I think that is what is so pivotal about this lawsuit, is that I think everyone understands the moment in time in which we're at and where we were at in education and how we can move forward. I think there's a lot of buy-in."
The work starts now. Romero says they are re-examining policies and programs.
"This isn't just in the short term. We are looking at a comprehensive plan that may take a few years to roll out and we'll have to look at different financing mechanisms," said Romero.
Our new governor will have to tackle education spending and the lawsuit not long after getting elected.
For now, the state plans to appeal. Our legislature meets in the middle of January.
Updated: October 23, 2018 10:19 PM
Created: October 23, 2018 09:24 PM
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