SANTA FE, N.M. — Among the bills that have reached Gov. Susana Martinez’s desk for signature during this legislative session is one intended to raise awareness about the “community schools” model of education reform.
The bill, called the Community Schools Act, does not include any funding or new requirements for districts. But Jose Muñoz, executive director of the ABC Community School Partnership and an advocate for the bill, said he hopes it raises the profile of community schools in New Mexico.
A spokesman for Martinez’s office said the governor has not decided whether she will sign the bill.
The main thrust of the community schools model is to make school buildings the hubs of their neighborhoods. Muñoz said school buildings are often under-used outside the school day and should be used for things like adult education and community activities. Some community schools include health clinics and other services, and many include a longer school day or after-school programs for students.
The strategy usually includes partnerships among schools, local government and businesses.
The bill, sponsored by House Majority Leader Rick Miera, D-Albuquerque, would establish a uniform definition of community schools, which Muñoz said varies across the state. The bill also lays out a process that would allow districts or schools to apply for community schools grants but says such grants would be “subject to availability of funding.”
Muñoz said the ABC partnership did not seek an appropriation this year, and does not expect grant money to be available soon. However, he said it does create a funding process that could be used if the state receives federal dollars earmarked for community schools.
“I’m hoping the bill gets the state to recognize community schools as a viable vehicle for academic achievement,” Muñoz said.
Miera said he hopes the bill prompts more communities to work together.
“We’re trying to involve the whole student,” Miera said. “So that means we’ve got to partner with the state, the feds, the local entities, families, communities, so that everybody’s working in tandem and nobody is working in isolation.”
Multiple community organizations have supported the Community Schools Act, including Youth Development Inc. YDI’s vice president, Frank Mirabal, wrote an opinion column for the Journal in January urging passage of the act and touting the benefits of community schools. YDI is currently working with Albuquerque Public Schools to turn West Mesa High School into the district’s first community high school. Grant and Wilson middle schools in APS are already community schools, as are schools in Anthony, Laguna Pueblo and Santa Fe.
Community schools also got their own day at the Legislature this year. A memorial sponsored by Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas, D-Albuquerque, designated Feb. 13 “Community Schools Day” at the Legislature. That memorial passed both chambers.
— This article appeared on page A4 of the Albuquerque Journal