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PED adding more money for state pre-K

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

Education Secretary-designate Christopher Ruszkowski high-fives students at La Escuelita Pre-School in Bernalillo after Thursday’s announcement of a statewide increase in spending for pre-K programs. (Greg Sorber/Albuquerque Journal)

BERNALILLO – Eleven New Mexico school districts will begin offering state prekindergarten programs for the first time next school year and more money is coming for existing programs.

The Public Education Department announced Thursday it is pumping $4.37 million into the new programs at districts across the state, and an additional $5.66 million for expanding, existing programs.

More than 1,500 additional spots will be available statewide – increasing from 5,186 this year to 6,786 next year.

Albuquerque Public Schools will see an additional $1.5 million, which will allow the district to bring in about 130 more students, although that is fewer slots than APS requested.

Among the districts launching the pre-K program for the first time is Carlsbad Municipal Schools. At the formal announcement Thursday, Superintendent Greg Rodriguez said the new effort’s goal is to invest into pre-K to give kids a jump start and hopefully impact graduation rates down the line.

That echoes the message being touted by lawmakers, educators and candidates in this year’s statewide elections. They are pushing early learning programs as crucial to improving the overall education outcome of New Mexico’s students, who consistently lag behind in standardized test scores.

Last year, the Legislative Finance Committee released a report on pre-K that showed the programs have proven to improve math and reading proficiencies for low income 4-year-olds and to lower special education and retention rates.

Rodriguez said Carlsbad prepped for three years to make the program happen, lining up a facility and teachers for the program. Four new teacher jobs and four education assistant positions will be created for Carlsbad’s new program, which is expected to cover 350 students next year.

Rodriguez joined Gov. Susana Martinez and Education Secretary-designate Christopher Ruszkowski at La Escuelita Pre-School in Bernalillo to provide details on the increased programs.

The state’s pre-K program consists of half- and full-day programs for 4-year-olds. Teachers have to be licensed and are reviewed under a state teacher evaluation system.

Some programs are housed as part of an elementary school and others are in separate facilities.

Each year a district estimates the number of students it expects for the following year in half-day slots and full-day slots, and the state decides how many to fund.

Money for unfilled slots is returned to the PED to use the next year. Ruszkowski said that from $2 to $4 million will be reverted to the fund in a given year because schools don’t use it all. He said that about $1.5 million is expected to be reverted from this school year, but the number won’t be finalized until the summer.

$10M more allotted

With the addition of the 11 districts, state pre-K will be present in 65 districts and six state charters, according to PED.

Overall, state pre-K programs are getting about $10 million more in the next school year, increasing the PED funding from $23.6 million last year to $33.6 million in 2018-2019.

“That’s the most we’ve ever given,” Gov. Susana Martinez said before sitting with a class of La Escuelita preschoolers.

“(Some) 1,500 (more) students statewide will have the opportunity to participate,” she said.

The state has increased funding for pre-K programs fivefold

since the 2011-12 school year.

This year, lawmakers appropriated $8 million of the extra funds while the other $2 million came out of money that reverted to the pre-K fund.

The money is distributed based on demand. PED allots the money based on districts’ enrollment projections and history of past enrollments.

For example, APS requested enough money to pay for 350 half-day students and 775 full-day students for the 2018-2019 school year.

PED says the district will get funding for the 350 half-day students but only for 594 full-day spots. The department said that’s because APS has historically reverted funds back to it because enrollment was lower than projected.

Last year, APS requested 717 half-day and 220 full-day students. But enrollment was at 606 for the half-day and 202 for full-day, according to PED.

APS’ funding will go from $3.5 million to about $5 million in the next school year for its pre-K, said Ruszkowski. PED said that if APS were to have more children who want to join a pre-K program than funded for in 2018-2019, additional money can be allotted if needed.

Meanwhile, PED denied some requests to launch the pre-K program, according to Ruszkowski.

Dulce Elementary School, which was designated a school in need of “more rigourous intervention,” is working on restructuring and did not have a complete plan in place yet, he said. A charter school in Espanola also wasn’t approved because of the available pre-K options – either through private preschool or Head Start programs – already in the area.

School districts implementing state pre-K

  • Animas Public Schools
  • Aztec Municipal Schools
  • Carlsbad Municipal Schools
  • Clovis Municipal Schools
  • Hagerman Municipal Schools
  • Las Cruces Public Schools
  • Los Alamos Public Schools
  • Loving Municipal Schools
  • Moriarty -Edgewood School District
  • Reserve Independent Schools
  • Silver Consolidated Schools

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