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Summer program sees expansion to more students

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Barcelona Elementary School teacher Martha Pacheco works on reading with students Ailin Frayre and Guillermo Hernandez, both 5, during a summer program last year. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Journal)

SANTA FE – A record number of students will start elementary school five weeks early this summer as part of a program that helps children in New Mexico improve their math and reading skills.

It’s a reversal from last summer – when districts across the state endured cuts as New Mexico struggled with a financial crisis.

In a written statement Monday, Gov. Susana Martinez said a record $28.8 million has been awarded to schools this summer for the K-3 Plus program.

That’s an enormous increase over last summer’s funding levels, when just $18 million was allocated. It’s also 12 percent higher than 2016, when $25 million was awarded.

“New Mexico continues to improve because we continue to raise the bar, fund what works, and improve teaching and learning,” Martinez said.

The K-3 Plus program adds 25 days to the school year for students at low-performing or low-income schools.

It’s for students in kindergarten through third grade, though at least nine districts will operate a pilot program for fourth- and fifth-graders this summer.

Nonpartisan analysts working for the Legislative Finance Committee say K-3 Plus shows strong results when it’s carried out effectively.

But that isn’t always the case, they said.

The program works best when there’s a seamless transition between the extended and regular school year, with no switch in teachers, LFC analysts said. It’s also important to add the full 25 days, not a smaller amount, they said.

Districts that fail to come into full compliance will risk their future funding, a spokeswoman for the state Public Education Department said.

State Sen. Mimi Stewart, an Albuquerque Democrat and chairwoman of the Legislative Education Study Committee, said she was pleased to hear about this year’s K-3 Plus awards. The Legislature, she said, has repeatedly increased funding for the program.

But she said she still wants to review the awards to ensure the Public Education Department is using the money to help the “neediest students.” She questioned whether last year’s cuts were necessary.

“For me, the jury is still out as to whether they are appropriately administering the program according to the statute and the intent of the Legislature,” Stewart said in an interview.

Altogether, the Martinez administration said nearly 23,000 students will have a chance to participate in K-3 Plus.

Albuquerque Public Schools is getting about $6.8 million. The district encourages families to check in with their schools and register quickly because seats are filling up.

“This is great news,” said Madelyn Serna Marmol, assistant superintendent of equity, instruction and support. “The funding will allow us to provide summer reading and/or math intervention to about 5,000 students across Albuquerque Public Schools.”

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