APS: Public education 'financial crisis' looms - Albuquerque Journal

APS: Public education ‘financial crisis’ looms

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

New Mexico’s largest school district is pleading with lawmakers to reassess education funding, saying a “potential long-term financial crisis” may be on the horizon.

The Albuquerque Public Schools Board of Education approved a letter Wednesday night that outlined how funding went down this year, while costs went up due to the pandemic, and painted a bleak picture for the future.

Interim Superintendent Scott Elder said during the board meeting that the district is forecasting significant budget trouble next academic year if school funding systems stay as they are.

“I think we need to start addressing this in the terms that we need the state to adequately fund us so that we can open the doors, because the losses we’re discussing are so significant, I’m not 100% sure how we would operate,” Elder told the board.

He said the district is seeing an enrollment drop of about 5,000 students this year. Even if all those students come back next year, Elder said, there will still be a multi-million-dollar deficit.

“Our enrollment dropped this year about six percent; funding for next year is based on enrollment this current year. As the law stands now, the district will lose more funding for the 2021-2022 school year based on current enrollment, up to $35 million. If those students return, we may not have the funding or the staffing to educate them,” a draft of the letter said.

Heather Bassett, APS policy analyst and legislative liaison, also said other funding streams will be affected by counts this year, such as transportation. The district usually has upward of 40,000 kids generating money for transportation and, this year, there were about 300 students, she said. “If the law doesn’t change, we’ll lose like $10 million in funding for transportation,” Bassett said.

What’s been proposed recently is using districts’ enrollment figures prior to the 2020-21 academic year – which has been drastically disrupted due to the pandemic – to determine school funding next year. Before the Legislative Education Study Committee on Wednesday, Secretary of Education Ryan Stewart listed this among the department’s top priorities.

While this would help, Elder said APS is also asking for lawmakers to analyze multiple options. After all, APS Chief Financial Officer Tami Coleman told the Journal that using past enrollment figures fixes the short term, but would likely result in stark year-to-year budget changes in the subsequent year.

Sen. Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, said she and other lawmakers have expressed support for using past enrollment counts to fund schools next year, but it’s too soon to say what will actually transpire during the next legislative session and what other changes could be in store for education funding.

Still, she said she is doing research with legislative staff to find a way to use past enrollment counts while mitigating the impact of that decision for future school years.

Secretary Stewart emphasized to the LESC that maintaining education funding is a priority for the department.

“As the Legislature is thinking about their cuts, one of the things PED will propose through its request is making sure education remains a priority and that we’re maintaining that funding,” he said.

Sen. Stewart said she is cautiously optimistic that the education budget will remain flat, but it’s too soon to say definitively.

While PED outlined its broad priorities, Secretary Stewart didn’t present a detailed budget, which some LESC members, including Sen. Stewart, took issue with as time is running out before a state budget is drafted.

Home » News » Albuquerque News » APS: Public education ‘financial crisis’ looms

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