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Editorial: HB 77 puts your money in classrooms, where it belongs

“The administrative overhead in our schools is outrageous. (Changing that is) going to be hard. Everyone is going to fight it. And you know what? They are all supporting me. Great. But if they think I’m not taking on this fight, they don’t know who I am. We’re taking it on. You have to. It’s outrageous.”

Then-candidate Michelle Lujan Grisham, July 2018

Education is, and always has been, one of our new governor’s top priorities. And while the Journal Editorial Board disagrees with some of her means, such as abolishing the PARCC exam and tapping the Land Grant Permanent Fund, the end we all are striving for is the same: Access to a high-quality public education for all New Mexico’s children.

We agree with Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham one way to do this is to get more dollars to the classroom, not administration.

New Mexico has ramped up its spending on education, and just under half of the state budget goes to public schools – $2.7 billion a year. Last month the governor proposed adding more than $500 million in a “moonshot,” the Legislative Finance Committee proposed adding $416 million, and this week the House Appropriations and Finance Committee approved spending an additional $449 million on pre-K-12 education.

Yet for all that new money to make a real difference for our kids it needs to go into classrooms.

July’s Yazzie/Martinez court ruling emphasizes adequate funding. Last summer Judge Sarah Singleton ordered the governor and Legislature to come up with a funding system that meets constitutional muster by April 15.

On page 45 of her decision, Judge Singleton states, “The evidence demonstrated that money spent on classroom instruction programs such as quality pre-K, K-3 Plus, extended school year, and quality teachers can all improve the performance of at-risk students ….”

On page 53, she states the Public Education Department and school districts are not doing enough to ensure money is being spent in ways that will improve outcomes for at-risk students.

The groundbreaking 2017 report by bipartisan think tank Think New Mexico bears out her claims. It found that in New Mexico, just 57 cents of every dollar meant for public schools goes to instruction, i.e. teachers, materials, principals, counselors – things and individuals who directly impact the learning day. And that means a whopping 43 cents of every dollar goes for everything from administrative travel to public relations and lobbyists.

Suddenly it’s a bit clearer why $2.7 billion a year delivers such poor academic results – It’s really $1.5 billion. While student proficiency has been trending up, 2018 data shows just 21.6 percent of students tested from grades three to 11 can do grade-level math and 31.1 percent can read at grade level.

Imagine if we spent more than 57 cents on the dollar on their educations. Democratic Rep. Bobby Gonzales, former superintendent of Taos Municipal Schools and vice-chair of the House Appropriations and Finance Committee, has introduced House Bill 77, along with Sen. Jacob Candelaria, D-Albuquerque. It would limit the growth of school district central administrative spending to the Consumer Price Index (CPI) or the overall growth in the state education budget, whichever is lower. That would get more of those new education dollars to our students and teachers in the classroom.

Unfortunately the bill is languishing in the House Education Committee, chaired by Rep. Andres Romero, D-Albuquerque. It is essential he put it on the calendar because, as the governor points out, administrative spending is through the roof – and her moonshot injection of new funding could inadvertently send it into the stratosphere. Think New Mexico found that between 2006 and 2017, 61 of the state’s 89 school districts grew their central office administrative spending faster than their classroom spending. The Legislature’s finance staff says statewide spending on school district administration grew by 34 percent over the past decade, double the 16 to 17 percent growth in classroom spending.

In 2018 Gonzales and Rep. Larry Larrañaga, who passed away last year, co-sponsored an earlier incarnation of HB 77. They wrote in an op-ed for the Journal that “how education dollars are spent is as important as how much is spent.”

It is essential that lawmakers recognize the truth in Gonzales and Larrañaga’s words, as well as Gov. Lujan Grisham’s. In fact, HB 77 needs her support now if it is to have a chance of getting out of committee and on to her desk.

The majority of all this new money for education needs to be focused on our classrooms and our kids. They deserve more than 57 cents on the dollar.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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