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Editorial: Student learning should be focus of new K-12 spending

“I have vowed to make my administration’s educational priorities – indeed, priorities in any issue area – abundantly clear. Students come first.”

– Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham

Given the huge increases in funding for K-12 education last year and proposed this legislative session, the governor is right, students should come first.

So should student academic improvement.

The 2019 Legislature appropriated, and the governor approved, a 16% increase in K-12 funding (around $447 million) including a 6% raise for teachers and administrators. It brought spending on K-12 schools to more than $3 billion a year. A funding boost for teacher raises was sorely needed, as was increased spending targeted at programs that improve student learning.

Clearly, new methods are needed since just 30% of N.M. students can read at grade level and 20% can do grade-level math.

This year, the governor would increase K-12 public school spending by roughly $200 million. Proposals include additional teacher raises (3% to 10%, the latter would run around $147 million a year) and increases of $53 million to $57 million in the funding formula that provides extra money to schools and districts with a large number of “at-risk” students.

What’s missing is accountability.

The state changed the standardized test students take, eliminating years of longitudinal data that could show academic improvement or lack thereof. It jettisoned A-F school grades that included student performance and allowed parents to easily compare every traditional and charter school in the state. It removed student improvement from teacher evaluations, meaning teachers are now evaluated on what an adult who pops into their classroom observes rather than if students advance academically over the school year.

And this month, it dropped letter grades for the state’s teacher college programs, opting to focus on site visits to those colleges and universities rather than how well K-12 students improve in N.M. graduates’ classrooms.

A priority should be establishing a way to compare student proficiencies year to year as well as a “dashboard” that allows parents to compare student proficiencies at Gadsden High, Albuquerque High and Farmington High. Without this type of accountabilty, it’s difficult to know whether we are meeting the late Judge Sarah Singleton’s ruling in her landmark Yazzie-Martinez opinion.

Because high-quality, results-driven, accountable education, not just money, is what’s key to improving everything in New Mexico, from childhood outcomes to the economy.

Singleton’s 2018 opinion found the state was not meeting its constitutional obligation to provide an adequate education to all students. She emphasized additional money must be spent on evidence-based programs and quality teachers proven to make a difference for at-risk children. That means limit administration spending to get more money to classrooms and use student results to evaluate programs and teachers.

In fact, last summer, plaintiffs returned to court, arguing the state’s 16% spending increase did not make it to students.

It’s crucial lawmakers pass legislation ensuring additional money goes directly into classrooms and that accountability measures based on our students learning be part of this administration’s priorities. It’s a new year and a new session. Here’s to new actions that put N.M. student learning first.

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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