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No more nickel-and-diming education

We can’t nickel-and-dime our way out of our education crisis as Think New Mexico attempts with its recent report. Two-thirds of New Mexico’s students are not reading at grade level, three-quarters cannot do math at grade level, and we have one of the lowest graduation rates in the country. The Albuquerque Journal recently lauded Think New Mexico’s simplistic solution to this complex problem: streamline our public schools’ administrative costs and spend the savings in our classrooms. While this sounds like a good idea on the surface, it falls far short of the actual investment our children need. Not only would this plan fail to supply the infusion of funding necessary to reform education in New Mexico, it does very little to ensure that funding is spent on the kinds of programs and services that we know develop successful students.

New Mexico’s children are just as intelligent, and capable and as full of potential as children across the country, but they are sorely lacking educational opportunity. The state is starving our public schools, our hard-working teachers have been forced to do more with less, and basic services, such as social workers, nurses, tutoring and classroom materials, are being cut. Families and school districts are fighting this injustice and spent the summer in the courtroom putting the state on trial for failing to provide a constitutionally “sufficient” education for all of our children. Experts testified that right here in New Mexico, there are programs like quality preschool, summer school, bilingual education and culturally relevant curriculum, that successfully improve educational achievement for our students.

While it’s important to spend money wisely, shaving funds out of districts’ administrative budgets won’t come close to fully funding these supports for all of the children in our state who need them.

In 2008, the state Legislature commissioned the American Institutes of Research to conduct a comprehensive study of state education funding. The report found that the state’s public education system was underfunded by over $300 million. Adjusted to the current date, our schools are underfunded by about $600 million.

Currently, “higher performing” districts do not spend less on necessary administrative costs and more on classrooms than “lower performing” districts. New Mexico’s school districts, which have distinct student populations and range from rural to urban, have disparate administrative needs. More importantly, the actual student outcomes from the “high performing” districts are only slightly better than the other districts and still have abysmal proficiency and graduation rates.

Plus, the state’s Public Education Department already claims that it is directing more funds to the classroom than ever, but our educational outcomes are as bad as ever. That’s because we don’t have the programs in place that our children need to succeed, like preschool, tutoring and summer school. And those programs cost money.

Our state leaders must stop giving hundreds of millions of dollars in tax cuts to corporations and the wealthiest New Mexicans and provide our students with the programs and services we all agree are needed for them to succeed. There is no better investment in the health, strength and prosperity of New Mexico than in education. It’s time to hold the state accountable to its obligation to our children.

(Editor’s note: The New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty is suing the State of New Mexico (Yazzie vs. State of New Mexico), saying it fails to provide the resources and programming necessary for all public school students to succeed.)