New Mexico is a step closer to ensuring the “special” in special education refers to the services provided to students — not to how funding for those services is kept accountable.
And accountability is vital in a state that spends billions on public and higher education annually — more than half of the state’s annual budget, in fact. While lawmakers and educators are fond of saying any education cuts hurt children, the fact that auditors found questionable special education spending to the tune of $4 million shows otherwise.
The reality is unsubstantiated special education spending — things like a blanket $16,400 for Española Public Schools officials to attend a special education conference at Disney World and cash to buy not one but two Suburbans — hurts all students. Imagine what school districts could do with the more than $7 million the state Public Education Department will be slashing on special education spending in the coming budget year because districts have uncovered what at best is sloppy record keeping and at worst out-and-out waste.
New Mexico has years of experience in not holding its education system fiscally accountable. The latest audit smacks of the Aztec district charging iPods and Lowe’s gift cards. Of Bernalillo buying a $91,000 tow truck it didn’t need and three overpriced sport utility vehicles. Of Bloomfield using a state appropriation for $11,178 in iPods and accessories. Of West Las Vegas spending $240,000 for energy management consultant services it could have gotten for free, having 12 extra custodial and maintenance jobs and just 52 percent of its operational budget going to instruction.
Then there’s Jemez Mountain’s $3.3 million embezzlement, Mora’s $64,000 slush fund and West Las Vegas’ fraud conviction.
So stopping the practice of using the state’s most vulnerable students as an excuse for incompetence, laziness or fraud is an important step in restoring accountability to education spending.
This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.