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3 school districts sue state over Impact Aid funding

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – Three New Mexico school districts filed a motion in state District Court on Tuesday, claiming the Public Education Department violated state law when reporting funding data to the federal government.

Gallup McKinley County Schools, Grants Cibola County Schools and Zuni Public Schools filed the motion for a temporary restraining order against Education Secretary Ryan Stewart, which aims to forbid the secretary from presenting evidence regarding Impact Aid to the U.S. Department of Education.

Impact Aid is federal money given to school districts that have tax-exempt lands within their boundaries, such as military bases or tribal land. All three districts in the motion include tribal land.

State law requires the Public Education Department to take exactly 75% of the Impact Aid funding that districts receive and give those districts whatever remains.

But the motion alleges the PED told federal officials that it takes up to 75% of Impact Aid funding, and on average takes just 17.96% of a district’s allocation.

“The PED has knowingly engaged in illegal conduct in providing financial data to the USDOE that does not follow the provisions of state law,” the motion states, adding the state has never had such a system in place.

The U.S. Department of Education ruled in April that the PED was not funding school districts equitably and that it could not deduct Impact Aid from a district’s funding, a decision PED later appealed.

Gallup McKinley Superintendent Mike Hyatt told the Journal he believes the PED has been intentionally changing the numbers to allow the agency to take more money from districts.

“They’re spending a lot of time trying to take this money – primarily from the most impoverished parts of the state – and redistributing it to more wealthy parts of the state,” he said.

He said his district usually receives $29 million in Impact Aid per year, of which PED takes $22 million.

A PED spokesperson said the department does not comment on pending litigation. A hearing for the motion is set for Sept. 2 in the 1st Judicial District Court.

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