With the Senate’s comprehensive education bill now on the way to the governor and the duplicate House version likely on its way by the time you read this, the Legislature has made great progress toward addressing the inequities and shortfalls in the public school system identified as unconstitutional by a district court.
Once the governor signs one of the bills into law, public school leaders will have powerful new tools and stronger resources to create the best education system for our kids.
For the most part, New Mexico has been moving in the right direction on education. But we’ve been taking tiny steps in random directions when our children need a giant leap into a system-wide transformation. With robust revenues and a court order, this legislative session provided both the opportunity and impetus to take that leap.
The result was the bipartisan Senate Bill 1 and identical House Bill 5. Along with a budget plan that supports them, these bills recognized that, if we want our children to succeed, New Mexico needs to not only address the court’s orders but, more importantly, to create an integrated system that serves all children from birth to college- or career-readiness. Research shows the world’s best schools have a comprehensive, aligned system; strong early childhood programs with extra supports for struggling children; highly skilled, well-compensated teachers; and robust career and technical education options.
SB 1 and HB 5 nearly double the factor in the public school funding formula — which starts with enrollment then adds dollars depending on the needs of each child — for children at risk of failing because of low income, limited English, and mobility. New Mexico has high rates of poor children, and we know these children start out behind and need extra supports to catch up.
A new multiplier in the formula would be created to expand a proven extended school year program to more grades and to any school that wants it.
Research shows the K-5 Plus program, when combined with prekindergarten, can wipe out the achievement gap between at-risk students and their more affluent peers and continues to have an impact on students into high school.
For public schools alone, the latest version of the proposed budget has almost $500 million to cover the costs of new and expanded formula factors and for pay increases for teachers and other school employees. Separate legislation, and the latest version of the proposed state budget, would increase access to and funding for prekindergarten and early prekindergarten and add tens of millions of new dollars to scholarships and wage subsidies for early childhood educators, childcare subsidies, and home visits to new families, an intensive parenting education program.
In addition, career and technical education is emphasized in, among other proposals, the redesign of the school accountability system, and numerous proposals are working their way through the Legislature that emphasize multicultural education, and Indian education in particular — a focus of the court.
The bills have not been without controversy.
Early in the session, language was stripped that would have limited the growth of charter schools, which perform no better than traditional public schools but generally get more funding per student.
More recently, funding was added to allow public schools that serve adults to stay open another year, although a provision that defines school-age as under 22 years remains in the bill. That provision is intended to focus the funding formula on serving children, instead of allowing it to be siphoned off for costly programs for adults already served by other state programs.
There is no magic bullet that will address the court’s issues or create the high-quality education system our children and families need and deserve. But, together, these efforts to take care of our youngest learners, support our struggling learners, build strong curricula and accountability with options for all learners, and recognize our educators will create a school system that allows New Mexico students to thrive.
Sen. Mimi Stewart, past chair of the Legislative Education Study Committee and Senate majority whip, has represented Senate District 17 in Bernalillo County since 2015. She previously served in the House for 20 years. A retired educator, Stewart taught in the Albuquerque Public Schools for 30 years.