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Reclassification of MRI schools affects funding

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

Hawthorne Elementary School is not alone in implementing a redesign plan.

In response to state requirements, Albuquerque Public Schools chose to restructure and redesign three schools that were formerly identified for “more rigorous intervention,” or MRI.

Los Padillas, Hawthorne and Whittier elementaries were in the middle of the MRI process under the previous state Public Education Department administration before recent education policy shifts. Now, those shifts are having an effect on funding at the schools.

After Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham took the helm of the state and brought in new PED leadership, schools are no longer measured through A-F grades, and MRI statuses were removed from schools.

PED reclassified the schools into the Comprehensive Support and Improvement, or CSI, category, which was billed as a way to allow schools time to make changes. Moving the schools to CSI also eliminated closure as a possibility.

According to the PED, schools won’t be identified for MRI status again until 2021, which adheres to a U.S. Department of Education timeline. The state agency also vowed not to resort to closure.

However, the CSI reclassification also resulted in less money for improvement plans at Los Padillas and Whittier, which APS Superintendent Raquel Reedy said has made the process difficult.

PED Deputy Secretary Katarina Sandoval said PED numbers show that Los Padillas and Whittier got around $775,000 each for their planning year and first year of implementing the plan.

Funding was also available for those schools in subsequent years under the MRI process.

But state funding for CSI schools is closer to $100,000, resulting in hundreds of thousands of dollars less to work with.

APS is still moving forward with the improvement plans, despite the reclassification and funding effects.

“This is something that is very difficult for us to deal with when we start a program or a project,” Reedy told a Board of Education meeting in September. “We’re told that the funding will be there for three years and then it’s pulled back. We’re very proud of the work and consequently have embraced this to the point that we are the ones covering the cost for this, but we started this with the promise that we were going to have three years.”

Sandoval said shifting the schools from MRI to CSI was intended to ensure that closure was no longer looming and to get the state on the U.S. Department of Education timeline.

She also said schools that needed improvement used to apply for grants, but the department now uses an “equity funding formula” that takes into account enrollment and students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch when determining how much money each school gets.

“Now we are in a system where all schools in need of improvement are receiving some sort of additional federal funding to do their school improvement work,” she said.

Hawthorne – which originally wasn’t getting any state dollars – is receiving about $144,000 as a CSI school this year, according to APS.

Sandoval said the department’s goal was to create a more equitable funding model overall.

APS has used operational dollars to allow Hawthorne, Whittier and Los Padillas to continue forward with their original improvement framework. Some efforts have been funded through other state programs, such as extended learning time, which lengthens the school year.

Reedy said CSI funding was cut short, too.

The superintendent said APS originally understood that CSI schools were going to be funded for one planning year and then three years of implementation. But a recent email notice said the PED would no longer be paying for the planning year, she said.

“Rather than three years of implementation, we would have two years of implementation,” Reedy said.

“This makes it so difficult for any district – and I know I speak for 89 districts in the entire state – when we go in and really try to work closely and jump in on things that we feel really strongly about with the promise there is going to be support and then it changes midstream,” she added.

Sandoval said the planning year the schools had under MRI status is considered as their CSI planning year, adding that the idea is to keep the state on track for MRI identification in 2021.

Reedy added that APS has met with state officials, saying the district is optimistic about the improvement process.

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