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HB 77 will help make sure all those new millions in funding go to classrooms, where learning happens

As Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and the Legislature consider a package of bills to transform New Mexico’s public schools, Think New Mexico urges them to include House Bill 77, which will make sure that a greater proportion of New Mexico’s education funding reaches our students and teachers in the classroom.

The education reform bills being considered by lawmakers were developed in response to last year’s landmark Yazzie/Martinez court decision. In that decision, Judge Sarah Singleton directed New Mexico lawmakers to spend more on education for the state’s most vulnerable students. Judge Singleton also made clear that this additional money must be spent on evidence-based “classroom instruction programs such as quality pre-K, K-3 Plus, extended school year, and quality teachers” that have been proven to make a difference for at-risk children.

In order to accomplish this, New Mexico will need to change the way it spends its education dollars. When Think New Mexico analyzed New Mexico’s education spending, we discovered that in the decade between 2006-07 and 2016-17, more than two-thirds of school districts across New Mexico – 61 of 89 – grew their central office administrative spending faster than their classroom spending.

For example, in the Albuquerque Public Schools, classroom spending increased by an average of 0.8 percent per year over the past decade, while administrative spending grew by 1.7 percent per year. That difference adds up with compounding: between 2006-07 and 2016-17, classroom spending in APS increased by 7.4 percent, while administrative spending increased by 17.5 percent.

Think New Mexico’s research is consistent with the findings of the Legislature’s own finance staff, which recently presented research showing that, statewide, spending on school district general and central administration grew by 34 percent over the past decade – more than twice as fast as classroom spending, which increased by 16-17 percent.

As Gov. Lujan Grisham told the Albuquerque Journal last July, “The administrative overhead in our schools is outrageous.”

The disproportionate growth in administration at the expense of the classroom helps explain why New Mexico’s student performance has continued to lag behind the rest of the nation. Several years ago, the Southwest Educational Development Laboratory conducted an extensive study of 1,500 school districts in Arkansas, Louisiana, Texas and New Mexico. They concluded that high-performing school districts spend a larger percentage of their budgets on instruction and a lower percentage on general administration than lower-performing districts, and they also tend to employ smaller numbers of administrative staff.

To get more money to New Mexico’s classrooms, Think New Mexico drafted House Bill 77, which has been introduced by Democratic Rep. Bobby Gonzales, former Superintendent of Taos Municipal Schools and vice-chair of the House Appropriations and Finance Committee.

House Bill 77 would limit the growth of school district central administrative spending to no faster than the Consumer Price Index (CPI) or the overall growth in the state education budget, whichever is lower. Classroom spending would not be limited. So in years like 2019, when lawmakers are proposing to increase education spending by more than 12 percent and the CPI is about 2 percent, central administration would be limited to 2 percent growth. All the rest of the new money would go to the classroom, where the learning takes place.

Passing House Bill 77 is especially important this year, when lawmakers are proposing to add at least $400 million to the education budget in response to the Yazzie/Martinez ruling. House Bill 77 will greatly enhance the effectiveness of those appropriations by making sure that almost all of the new money will be directed to the classroom.

We encourage parents and families across New Mexico to urge their legislators and Gov. Lujan Grisham to include House Bill 77 in their education reform package. You can learn more about this effort, and email your legislators and the governor from Think New Mexico’s website at: www.thinknewmexico.org.

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