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Editorial: Money hasn’t bought N.M. better education

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For years New Mexicans have argued about how much is enough when it comes to school spending. And for years the answer for some is that there’s never enough.

But new spending figures show two things. First, we are not at the bottom of this list like we are so many others. And second, spending does not necessarily equal quality in education if the goal is student achievement.

According to the National Education Association, a teachers union, New Mexico ranked 25th in per-student spending for the 2011-12 school year at $10,203 per student. The U.S. Census Bureau’s figures put New Mexico at 37th in fiscal 2011 at $9,070 per student.

But according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, that middle-of-the-pack spending is delivering less when it comes to student achievement than the smaller amounts spent in neighboring Colorado, Texas and Arizona.

Colorado spent $10,001 and $8,724 per student, respectively; Texas $8,498 and $8,671; and Arizona $6,683 and $7,666. Yet all three scored higher than New Mexico in fourth-grade reading in 2011. In fact all but four states in the union scored higher than New Mexico in fourth-grade reading that year.

Even states that spent thousands less per pupil.

A NAEP analysis says “the average score for students in New Mexico in 2011 was not significantly different from their average score in 2009 and was not significantly different from their average score in 1992.”

That is telling, considering the state raided its permanent funds to increase spending on K-12 public education by $75 million a year from 2003 to 2012. Yet it is not surprising, considering a Legislative Finance Committee report found much of the money didn’t go to intended purposes, and the millions that did go to fund higher teacher salaries on a three-tier system were a poor investment if the goal was higher student achievement.

State education chief Hanna Skandera says the spending/results disparity validates the governor’s strategy of targeting education funding to programs that are held accountable for delivering results. That’s not to say effective teachers shouldn’t get paid more and effective programs shouldn’t get more money. They should.

But it’s past time for New Mexico to stop blindly throwing money at its low student proficiency and graduation rates and start targeting spending toward data-driven programs with proven results – for its taxpayers, certainly, but for its students especially.

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.

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