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Charter school leaders blast education bill

SANTA FE, N.M. — Charter school supporters showed up to the Legislature in force Saturday morning to voice opposition to a provision in a House bill that would effectively eliminate the small school size adjustment charters currently receive.

House Bill 5, which was approved by the House Education Committee, aims to revamp the state education system and bring it into compliance with a landmark court decision that found the state was not providing a sufficient education to some its high-risk students. House Bill 5 would, among other things, increase the minimum salaries for teachers and principals, create a new funding formula, and prohibit public schools from claiming funding for students over 21 years of age. The bill does, however, grandfather in older students currently attending public school.

But it was the proposal to eliminate the small school size adjustment for charters and schools in large districts that garnered the most criticism.

The adjustment provides more funding to small schools.

“Removing the small school size funding will close our doors to our school,”said Monica Aguilar, director of Mark Armijo Academy in Albuquerque.

The fear that eliminating the small school size adjustment would cripple schools and even force some to close was echoed by charter school educators from around the state who traveled to the Roundhouse to speak against the provision.

Jade Rivera, founder of the Albuquerque Collegiate Charter School, said the funding allowed her school to launch and is critical to her school.

“Without that funding our school’s scholars would not have access to the model that we are able to provide,” Rivera said.

“Small School Size adjustment would have a tremendously detrimental effect on numerous schools, families, and children across our state,” she added.

But legislative staffers countered that the small school size adjustment was originally only intended to go to schools from small districts, and not to charter schools.

Rachel Gudgel, director of the Legislative Education Study Committee, said that small school size funding was never intended for urban or charter schools and that funding’s previously going to charter schools was the result of a misinterpretation by the past two governor’s administrations.

Charles Sallee, deputy director of the Legislative Finance Committee, defended the bill.

“This is an attempt to try to treat both charters and districts equitably and limit school size adjustment units to small rural areas of the state which tend to be in districts with less than 2,000 students,” Sallee said.

Prior to taking public comment, the House Education Committee amended the bill to, among other things, bring it in line with a similar Senate bill.

Changes made include increasing teacher pay over the next four fiscal years to bring the minimum teacher salaries for Level 1, Level 2, and Level 3 to $46,000, $56,000, and $66,000, respectively at that fourth fiscal year.

The amended bill was passed by the committee on a 9-2 vote and now heads to the House Appropriation and Finance Committee for consideration.

Lawmakers have been considering a host of education reforms this year.

Last July, state District Judge Sarah Singleton ruled that New Mexico is violating the rights of at-risk students – including Native Americans, English-language learners and those from low-income families – by failing to provide them with a sufficient education.

The judge’s landmark decision gave the state, the Public Education Department and the Legislature until April 15 to take steps to ensure that New Mexico schools have resources needed to provide a sufficient education.

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