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Participation rates in 2 academic programs didn’t meet expectations

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

Participation in two high-budget academic programs was significantly lower than what was budgeted for the fiscal year that ended June 30, a Legislative Education Study Committee brief shows.

And a legislative analyst questioned whether the programs are the most effective way to increase time spent on learning.

“Despite increased funding, implementation challenges led to lower than projected uptake of both K-5 Plus and extended learning time programs,” the document states.

The brief comes as New Mexico responds to a judge’s ruling that the state has been failing to provide a sufficient education to every student, particularly students who are considered at risk.

According to the brief, lawmakers earmarked $120 million for K-5 Plus, which extends the school year by 25 days for elementary students, for the summer of 2019. That was enough to have funded 87,000 students. But the money ended up going to only around 15,000 students, according to state Public Education Department numbers.

“Only $22 million of the $120 million K-5 Plus appropriation was distributed to school districts and charter schools by the funding formula,” the brief stated.

Past critiques of the program centered on its stringent requirements, including students having to stay with their K-5 Plus teacher during the regular school year. The brief suggests that allowing schools to build up to the program’s requirements could spur better participation.

During Monday’s LESC hearing, PED Deputy Secretary Gwen Perea Warniment said two of the barriers to implementation were competition with other local programs and recruiting teachers.

In addition, COVID-19 threw a wrench into summer 2020 implementation.

“PED anticipated that many school districts and charter schools would implement K-5 Plus programs in FY21. However, due to the public health emergency, PED canceled K-5 Plus programs for all summer programs,” the brief states.

Perea Warniment said early literacy teaching – which K-5 Plus prioritizes – is difficult to do remotely. She added that the PED is working with local districts to launch district-wide K-5 Plus programs in June, among other options.

It’s a similar picture for another key program that increases the amount of time kids spend learning. Extended Learning Time adds 10 instructional days to the school year for students, and offers after-school programs and professional development time for teachers.

While $62.5 million was included in the budget for Extended Learning Time programs for the 2019-20 school year, only $42.2 million was spent. PED reported over 83,000 students participated during that time, but there was money for an estimated 124,000 kids.

PED Deputy Secretary Katarina Sandoval said participation is expected to increase significantly to 135,479 in the 2020-21 school year even though summer programs this year were pushed back. Still, the LESC document shows that’s down from earlier projections, too.

Sandoval said program challenges include accommodating families with children in multiple schools with different schedules and relaying the program’s purpose so families will opt in.

Unused funding for both programs reverts to the public education reform fund.

The pandemic has exacerbated already existing issues for the programs, according to LESC.

“While COVID-19 created additional challenges, school districts and charter schools were not able to take advantage of either K-5 Plus or extended learning time programs prior to the public health emergency,” the brief states. “While implementation challenges elevated by school leaders are valid, if school districts and charter schools are not able to implement programs that extended instructional time quickly enough to support students currently enrolled, the Legislature might consider rethinking K-5 Plus and extended learning time programs.”

For instance, the LESC document raised the possibility of making the programs mandatory or expanding the number of required school days.

Stan Rounds, executive director of the New Mexico School Superintendents Association, urged lawmakers to keep funding in the programs, especially as schools try to combat learning loss, saying they’re good investments in the long term.

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