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State cancels key education programs

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

Two programs that have been framed as key ways to narrow academic gaps in New Mexico’s students have been canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

K-5 Plus and Extended Learning Time programs – state-funded efforts that increase the amount of time students spend in the classroom in a year – will not be held this year, according to a state Public Education Department memo.

“Given the uncertainty of COVID-19 and its possible effects on public health this summer, it would be difficult to meet program requirements, which include students remaining with (the) same teacher during the regular school year and participation-based funding, while adhering to public health requirements,” the memo says. “The safety of our students and educators is our first priority.”

In its memo, PED said the decision doesn’t apply to Extended Learning Time programs scheduled before July 1, saying these programs will be held virtually and have already been funded in FY20.

PED Deputy Secretary Gwen Perea Warniment said the PED’s aim is to ask lawmakers to redirect the money earmarked for these programs to other academic efforts that help mitigate academic loss, and focus on social and emotional learning for the next school year.

K-5 Plus was allocated over $119 million, and more than $71 million was set aside for Extended Learning Time for fiscal year 2021. Unused funds revert to the public education reform fund, according to the state spending bill.

Redirecting these dollars, however, hinges on lawmakers signing off on the shift during a special legislative session, which Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said would begin June 18.

Sen. Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, who co-sponsored a bill that outlines K-5 Plus and Extended Learning Time, said some lawmakers are looking at putting the reverted funding toward an extended school year statewide, though she cautioned that idea is only being considered. “Most students coming back are going to be a bit behind where we wanted them to be,” Stewart said.

Schools across the state shut down in March after early cases of the coronavirus were confirmed in New Mexico.

While districts and charters were tasked with continuing learning from a distance, school leaders have acknowledged that there will inevitably be a loss in learning. After all, it was recommended that students spend less time on schoolwork daily than they would in a traditional classroom setting.

That’s a blow for a state in which 71% of its fourth-graders aren’t proficient in math and 76% of fourth-graders aren’t proficient in reading per the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

“We are aware there’s been obviously a lot of academic loss this year because of all of the disruptions of the public health crisis. What we are considering is: Can the money that was put aside for K-5 Plus and Extended Learning Time … be redirected so that we can run some extended learning time programs that have a little more flexibility?” said Nancy Martira, a PED spokeswoman.

K-5 Plus extends the school year for elementary students by 25 days before the typical year begins.

It has stringent requirements, including a mandate that students have the same teacher during the K-5 Plus portion as the rest of the year and the program has to be offered schoolwide, which posed a problem amid the public health order.

Originally, 31 districts and three charter schools applied for the K-5 Plus program, translating to 20,190 students who were expected to participate, according to the PED.

An expanded version, called K-12 Plus, was set to be piloted, but that has also been canceled.

Extended Learning Time, as written, lengthens the school year by 10 days, boosts professional development time for teachers and requires after-school or extracurricular programs. Abouty 73,000 students across the state were scheduled to take part, according to the PED.

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