Governor, lawmakers need to hold NM schools harmless - Albuquerque Journal

Governor, lawmakers need to hold NM schools harmless

New Mexico – and the world – have just been through a natural disaster. Our children, families and schools are recovering slowly, but recovery will take time. Schools are just beginning to understand and evaluate what was lost during the pandemic, and are moving into recovery mode. Now is not the time to nickel-and-dime school budgets, forcing districts and charter schools to choose between laying off educators or cutting spending for the programs that will bring families back.

Albuquerque Interfaith’s 22 member churches, synagogue, schools and nonprofit organizations call on the Legislature and Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham to fully fund the salary increases approved for teachers and other educators. We also call on them to allow two more transition years for schools and districts to find the students and families who left during the disaster. The pandemic hit overnight, but it is unfair to families and educators struggling with its impact to expect recovery to happen instantly and without extraordinary resources.

Fortunately for New Mexico, we are blessed with the financial resources to fully support our children, families and schools through this recovery. The state’s reserves are near 40% of the budget and West Texas Intermediate oil is at $100 a barrel and likely to stay high, even if a recession hits. Now is not the time to stuff money under the state’s financial mattresses. To use federal emergency funding alone to address funding gaps only kicks the can down the road and prolongs what the Yazzie-Martinez lawsuit declared historic under-funding of our schools in the first place.

Since public schools are funded based on the previous year’s attendance, this budgetary double-whammy is forcing schools to plan layoffs just when we need more teachers, educational assistants, social workers, counselors and other staff to encourage families to reenroll and reengage with schools.

As an example of the most recent state budget’s stinginess toward our schools, in the coming school year, APS will be short $10 million from underfunded salary increases and roughly $35 million from some 4,000 “lost” students. Many, if not most, will return in the next two years. All those kindergartners kept home will go to first grade. Yet, APS won’t have the caring, loving educators those children need and deserve if our legislators and the governor don’t act now.

Albuquerque Interfaith organizations and leaders know intimately the struggles facing families, students, educators and school leaders on the front lines of this recovery, especially those in our most marginalized communities. Throughout this natural disaster, our public schools held up in their role as critical institutions connecting with families, getting emergency aid out, addressing hunger issues, helping families avoid evictions, and more. We need them now more than ever. Community school coordinators, principals, counselors, teachers, EAs and other staff are the “first responders” our families rely on now.

In the coming economy, human capital will be more critical than it has ever been before. Our state’s leaders can help us prepare for the transition, and it starts with investing in our recovery from this disaster. We call on our governor and Legislature to hold our public schools harmless from devastating cuts in the coming year so our schools can continue to play their vital role in helping our communities recover from the collective trauma and prepare for our future economy.

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