SANTA FE, N.M. — With the legislative session just 10 days away, Santa Fe Public Schools Superintendent Joel Boyd is optimistic it could bring good things for public education in New Mexico.
By good things, he means more money.
“I think there’s a real opportunity to make significant progress in funding schools,” he said.
On Monday, Gov. Susana Martinez proposed a 3.9 percent increase in education spending for the next fiscal year. Still, that’s significantly less than the 5.6 percent increase the Legislative Finance Committee called for when it released its budget proposal last week.
“The overall increase in education spending is welcome,” Boyd said, “because our children certainly need it. Our real concern is that the proposed education budget by the governor won’t keep pace with the increase in revenue.”
State revenues are projected to increase by 5 percent. The difference between that and Martinez’s proposal for education is Boyd’s biggest concern.
“When state revenues increase by 5 percent and education spending increases by 4 percent, that gap doesn’t seem to make sense,” he said. “It defies logic when we know our schools need more support than what we already have.”
The governor’s proposal would also raise the minimum salary for teachers by 10 percent from $30,000 to $33,000, and grant pay raises to teachers and principals who perform well under the state’s new evaluation system. She also supports expansions of the Pre-K and K-3 Plus programs.
State Public Education Department chief Hanna Skandera has also spoken about the desire to expand the use of online parent portals in schools throughout the state, funding additional early college high schools and increasing funding for interventions in struggling schools.
The governor’s spokesman, Enrique Knell, said Martinez has never been shy about investing in education, “but reform requires funding to be accountable and targeted toward helping those schools and students who are struggling.”
Boyd said he’s also concerned that more than half of the $100 million the governor is proposing for increased education spending would be “below-the-line” expenses.
“There are parts of the governor’s budget we could support, but 1.9 percent above the line would not be sufficient. For us, we wouldn’t be able to keep pace with anticipated bills,” he said.
The difference between above- and below-the-line spending is significant, he said.
An above-the-line funding increase would mean more money would flow through the state’s funding formula and give school districts more direct control over how money is spent. It would allow school districts more flexibility in addressing specific needs, he said.
Below-the-line funding gives the Public Education Department more authority to dictate which programs or reforms get money, he said.
In anticipation of the upcoming legislative session, Santa Fe Public Schools has set its legislative agenda, and an increase in above-the-line funding is at top of the list.
Also on the list are:
- Amend the state constitution to keep the annual distribution from the land grant permanent fund at 5.8 percent.
Distributions are set to decrease to 5.5 percent through 2016, and drop to 5.0 percent thereafter. Boyd said those dollars impact the operating budget, which funds teacher salaries and academic services.
- Amend the funding formula risk-factor adjustment.
This would provide more funding for students eligible for free and reduced-price lunch programs and increase resources for students learning English. It would change the funding formula to account for economic factors, which would have an impact in Santa Fe because of the higher cost of living.
- Amend the funding formula to include a cost of living factor.
Since the value of a dollar differs from place to place, the district is asking the Legislature to adopt a formula that accounts for the cost of living adjustment to be calculated based on the consumer price index.
- Revise the tiered licensure system for teacher compensation.
This would give teachers an opportunity to earn higher salaries sooner by allowing them to advance more quickly through the three-tiered system.
- Adjust Maintenance of Effort requirements to provide more equitable funding for special education.
School districts are required to annually meet MOE requirements, resulting in the need for costs to be subsidized through the operational budget. The district is calling for legislation that assures equality of MOE special education funds to each school district.
- Create a School Grades Council with the authority to improve the current school grading system.
The district claims the current school grading system is too complex and should be altered to give educators, parents and students a clearer sense of how their schools are performing and how to improve.
In September, the Santa Fe school board voted to set aside $100,000 for a potential lawsuit against the state over what it considers to be insufficient education funding. The district pitched the idea to the state’s school board association last month, and SFPS Board President Linda Trujillo has visited other districts in an effort to gain support.
“There seems to be a favorable response from districts across the state,” Boyd said. “Some have passed resolutions, some have committed dollars and some are in the process of consideration.”
So far, Española Valley, Moriarty-Edgewood and Taos school districts have joined in support, with the Moriarty-Edgewood district committing $3,000 to a potential lawsuit.