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Some districts can’t meet state’s standards for K-5 Plus

New Mexico has allocated $120 million for K-5 Plus, a 25-day summer learning program. But some districts have had problems meeting the program's requirements for teacher staffing. (Morgan Petroski/Albuquerque Journal)

New Mexico has allocated $120 million for K-5 Plus, a 25-day summer learning program. But some districts have had problems meeting the program’s requirements for teacher staffing. (Morgan Petroski/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

The state set aside about $120 million so New Mexico students could have the opportunity to attend K-5 Plus, a learning program for kindergarten through fifth grade students that extends the school year by 25 days.

However, some districts aren’t able to take advantage of the program because they are having trouble meeting program requirements.

Sen. Mimi Stewart, an Albuquerque Democrat and chairwoman of the Legislative Education Study Committee, said the $120 million is about $90 million more than what has been spent in previous years, adding that it is enough money to provide a slot for all children who qualify, which she estimated was 91,000 kids.

For now, the state’s school districts are waiting for K-5 Plus funding determinations by the state Public Education Department, which Daniel Manzano, chief of staff, said is expected to be announced today.

One of the main obstacles districts are facing is the state requirement that students in K-5 Plus, which expands previous K-3 Plus efforts, must have the same teacher in the summer portion as the rest of the school year, which some schools aren’t able to provide.

While Stewart said the new stipulations are to spur student achievement, some are worried they will have the opposite affect.

Randall Piper, superintendent of Truth or Consequences Municipal Schools, said staffing was one reason his district didn’t apply for state funding.

“Some of the legislative requirements made it difficult with the students staying in a cohort with the same teacher,” he said.

He noted the 25 extra days is a big commitment for a lot of teachers.

“One of the things – really probably more than anything – was that our teachers are tired,” he said.

Piper added there were unanswered questions regarding transportation and on how ancillary services for students with disabilities would be funded.

“I think it’s a good program and we support it, but there were a lot of unknowns,” he said.

In summer 2018, roughly 100 kids in Piper’s district were in a variation of the K-5 Plus program.

Now, Truth or Consequences is considering offering sports camps and working with private day cares to help families find other options for the summer.

It’s a similar situation in Silver Consolidated Schools.

Curtis Clough, associate superintendent of the district based in Silver City, said the district originally applied but rescinded its application because of staffing requirements.

“Staffing is a huge problem in regards to trying to keep staff for that,” he said, adding the program also interfered with other initiatives the district was working on.

He said his district previously offered K-3 Plus for about 40 kids before the new requirements.

The PED, which oversees the program and apportions the funding, has said it is aware of the teacher requirement hurdle.

At a Legislative Finance Committee meeting this month, Secretary of Education Karen Trujillo said the department has been heavily recruiting for K-5 Plus.

She said some schools had to decline due to teacher limitations and other barriers.

“We expect to see a much larger uptick in the following summer,” Trujillo said.

Stewart, who co-sponsored Senate Bill 1, which established K-5 Plus, said the teacher requirement was put into place because research by Utah State University found the 25-day extension with the same teacher as in the school year improves academic achievement.

“If you do the program with that type of fidelity, you get tremendous growth,” she said. “If you do the program like a summer school with a different teacher, you get some growth but it doesn’t stay over time.”

The districts’ responses didn’t surprise the senator.

“I knew there would be some issues with implementation because the program still relies on teachers volunteering,” she said.

“It’s a bit of a rough start.”

But she said the purpose of a stricter K-5 Plus program is to increase academic growth and to address, in part, a court ruling that asserted the state is not providing adequate education for all students.

However, Rep. Rebecca Dow, R-Truth or Consequences, was skeptical that the requirements were helping rural districts.

“If we set such a boundary, such parameters around participation, that they have to opt out, what did we accomplish? We’re actually working backwards.”

After all, she said, rural districts such as Piper’s and Clough’s went from offering some type of extended year program to offering nothing.

“The low income, at-risk children are getting less services, not more,” she said.

Districts that did apply for the funding are running into similar situations.

Albuquerque Public Schools is bracing to use its own operational funds for 20 schools where there are not enough teachers to implement the program and qualify for state dollars.

Santa Fe Public Schools Superintendent Veronica Garcia said the district was also trying to find enough teachers for its elementary schools.

“That part of it has been a little difficult,” she said.

Garcia said a few schools may not get the program.

“I don’t have the definite numbers yet but I probably have four or five that I may not be able to make it work given the requirements,” she said.

Journal Capitol Bureau Chief Dan Boyd contributed to this report.