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‘We need some help’

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Math teacher Dennis Haroldson, right, works with Edwin Rodriguez, 27, at Gordon Bernell Charter School in the Metropolitan Detention Center. The school is facing funding uncertainty as the legislative session nears its end and a fiscal stream hasn’t been secured for the future. (Anthony Jackson/ Albuquerque Journal)

SANTA FE, N.M. — Santana Bayuk’s mother died when he was 13.

The first things to go were his grades. And after decades of addiction and crime, he eventually lost his freedom.

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Santana Bayuk (Anthony Jackson/Albuquerque Journal)

“I think similar patterns happen in other people’s lives,” the 47-year-old said outside a classroom at the Metropolitan Detention Center. “Something happens and we mess it up, and then we get a chance like now to come and fix some of it.”

Bayuk said he has been learning with dozens of others at Gordon Bernell Charter School for a month now, building skills that could help him find a job and stay out of jail.

But the Gordon Bernell campus at MDC faces closure if it doesn’t secure funding, director Kimberlee Peña-Hanson said.

“These are desperate times for our students out at the jail,” she said.

After changes made last year to the law, students who are over 21 years old no longer generate money through the school funding formula.

That affects 80% of Gordon Bernell’s roughly 430 students, according to school officials.

While Gordon Bernell received funding for its older students this school year, Peña-Hanson said the school doesn’t have a guaranteed, sustainable funding stream and its fate is up in the air.

It costs an estimated $3 million annually to run Gordon Bernell’s campuses, according to Peña-Hanson.

A proposed amendment that would have given the school a recurring $2 million in higher education funds was not included in a revised $7.6 billion budget bill approved Tuesday by the Senate Finance Committee.

The amendment’s sponsor, Sen. Sander Rue, R-Albuquerque, declined to comment.

There’s still a chance lawmakers could include it in the budget plan, but it’s unlikely as time runs short at the Roundhouse.

Sen. John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, told the Journal he was still going through all the proposed amendments as of midday Tuesday, but said it was likely a fiscal issue.

“I suspect it wasn’t included because we didn’t have the money,” he said.

There are seven Gordon Bernell sites in Albuquerque and Los Lunas, which target adult learners, including inmates and former inmates.

Despite just two days left in the session, Peña-Hanson is not giving up.

“I’m surprised it’s taken this much fight to support the most marginalized population in our state at a time when these services are crucial,” she said.

Students in jail make up over half of all students in Gordon Bernell, most of whom are over 21 years old.

“That’s where we have the majority of our older students and that’s the heart of the school,” Peña-Hanson said about the MDC campus. “Those are students who cannot seek services outside of the jail.”

Since the majority of the student-inmates won’t get K-12 dollars, Peña-Hanson predicts that this campus would close if there isn’t another avenue of funding – no more classes, social workers and special education services for inmates.

As for the other sites, Peña-Hanson said services would likely be cut and it’s unclear if older students would be admitted.

There have been multiple proposals this legislative session around this issue, but nothing has moved forward thus far.

Rep. Christine Trujillo, D-Albuquerque, sponsored several pieces of legislation to keep the school running, but none of them made it through.

“We should give access to everyone who wants to get a high school diploma, whether they are 18, 21, 23, whatever the age,” she said, adding that she is pushing for higher education funding.

Bayuk, the 47-year-old student attending Gordon Bernell at MDC, said closing the school would also derail the momentum and hope the school has cultivated – for him and his fellow inmates, especially those who are older.

“I’m not the only one. Look in the classroom; there are other guys my age. At some point, I feel like maybe the system gives up on us … no longer sees us as an asset,” Bayuk said. “… And they wonder why recidivism and the crime rate is high. It’s because we’re not addressing the core issues. … We are beneficial to our communities and families, but we need some help. This is a step in the right direction.”

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