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APS says funding holds back state’s education reforms

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Days after New Mexico’s acting secretary of education highlighted state initiatives that are boosting PARCC scores, Albuquerque Public Schools administrators said they support many of these programs but worry they aren’t receiving enough funding to create large-scale improvements.

Carrie Robin Brunder, the district’s director of government affairs and policy, told the Journal that APS has had principals turned away from one of the Public Education Department’s signature efforts — Principals Pursuing Excellence, a mentoring program — because there are not enough slots. Eight APS principals and one district administrator applied to take part during the upcoming school year. Six were accepted.

Funding for other PED programs has been cut, so administrators have a hard time depending on them, Brunder said.

She said the district will “buy into one of PED’s reform programs and then, under no control of our own, those programs are shrunk, they’re changed, the money goes away, and it makes it very hard for us to create any stable reform effort in our district.”

But Christopher Ruszkowski, acting secretary of education, said other New Mexico districts have found money in their budgets to keep programs going because they have made it a priority. And while funding for K-3 Plus and other programs was cut this past fiscal year, it has gone up over the past five years, Ruszkowski said.

He said competition has increased for the funding, and PED determines who receives it based on the strength of applications, as well as how well a district implements a program and how committed it is to data-driven reform.

“Let’s not forget APS is a billion-dollar organization,” he said. “I think the APS leadership needs to figure out what’s working for its kids in terms of getting progress and outcomes, and commit to that with its own local dollars and with its own federal dollars.”

This summer, PED saw a cut in funding for its K-3 Plus program, which extends the academic year by 25 days. Districts were asked to delay the program to later in the summer so funding would come out of the next funding year, which starts July 1. APS was unable to do that and received money for about 3,000 children, compared to about 5,000 in total last summer.

“The argument that we have had, I guess in the political scene, over the last seven years really has not been about the value of the reform programs PED is trying to initiate because we participate in those programs when we believe they align to our core mission and our core values,” Brunder said. “The argument on the political scene is about consistency, funding mechanisms and how you bring those programs to scale in a district like ours.”

In recent years, Principals Pursuing Excellence has been offered mentorship to a total of 124 schools serving 28,000 students statewide, but Brunder noted that APS has 150 principals and 100 assistant principals.

APS alone “would be the entire capacity of Principals Pursuing Excellence over the past couple of years, so we participate in it when we can,” Brunder said.

A hundred schools applied to receive mentorship through the program during the upcoming school year and 60 were accepted. Some APS schools did not pass the “rigorous selection process,”  Ruszkowski said.

“We’ve had more schools than ever that want to be part of it, but a key part to being ready … is do you have the district leadership and the school board leadership and the alignment and the belief that all kids can learn?” Ruszkowski said. “APS has to come to the table and demonstrate their readinesss for these reforms and practices.”

In releasing the PARCC scores this week, Ruszkowski pointed to Farmington and Belen, which have seen growth in those standardized test scores, as having embraced “assessment and data-driven instruction” at the board level.

He noted that APS — even though it has been active in the K-3 Plus and truancy programs — fell about 2 percentage points in PARCC English scores over the past three years and was relatively flat in math. Ruszkowski said implementation was important for a program to yeidl results, and APS has not seen the type of growth he hoped for.

He also cited a University of Virgina report from several years ago that he said found that APS has “some aversion to data-driven culture.”

Ruszkowski also noted that other large urban districts like Tulsa have created their own programs similar to Principals Pursuing Excellence. Next month, Ruszkowski will sit down with APS Superintendent Raquel Reedy for the first time since he became acting secretary of education on June 20.

Reedy told the Journal that APS will continue to partner with the education department.

In recent years, the  relationship between APS and PED has been acrimonious with board members being outspoken critics of former Education Secretary Hanna Skandera and many of the department’s reforms. PED has also taken APS and its teacher union to task for many of their positions.

“Even when relationships were strained between the former secretary and former superintendent, APS staff has always worked closely with PED staff for the betterment of the students of Albuquerque and New Mexico,” Reedy said in an emailed statement. “As a longtime member of the APS staff, I too have worked alongside the state and will continue to do so as we strive to improve academic outcomes for our students.”