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Senator wants to halt new charter schools

SANTA FE, N.M. — State Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto has proposed a moratorium on new charter schools in response to state funding formulas that provide more per pupil to the charters than traditional public schools.

The Albuquerque Democrat discussed the idea during a Legislative Education Study Committee at Los Alamos High, which included a presentation on school funding last week.

LESC worked with the Legislative Finance Committee to prepare the report showing that charters collect an average of $8,728 per-student statewide versus $7,639 per-student at school districts. Charters and rural districts use a small-school funding formula that provides them with more money because they don’t benefit from economies of scale.

Ivey-Soto argues that, as a result, New Mexico simply can’t afford any more charters.

“It is a budgetary fact,” he told the Journal . “We cannot support the level of charter schools and the increases of new charter schools.”

State revenues are down, money is tight, and Ivey-Soto thinks “something has gotta give.” He backs school choice for families, but considers it a “luxury.”

The state’s 89 school districts and the New Mexico Public Education Commission all have the power to grant charters, but none of them are paying enough attention to the bottom line, according to the senator.

“We have these 90 different authorities with authorization power to start new public bodies because every charter school is a brand new public body,” he said. “They do this without any contemplation of the budgetary impacts of this action. At the end of the day, it has a huge budgetary impact.”

Ivey-Soto told the Journal that he will introduce a charter school moratorium bill during January’s legislative session if another lawmaker doesn’t take on th e issue. However, he hopes the LESC ultimately recommends the halt to new charters.

“I am a team player,” Ivey-Soto said. “I want to see what we end up with at the LESC. … Whoever the committee decides should carry it, whether it is me or someone else, I will be supporting it.”

Kelly Callahan, co-executive director of the New Mexico Coalition for Charter Schools, agreed that charter school funding formulas should be examined, but doesn’t think a moratorium is the best solution.

“I would hate to quell innovation,” she said. “I am sure there are very excited people who want to try to do new things.”

Callahan also noted that school finances are complex and include more funding sources than the per-pupil money from the state.

For instance, districts can sell general obligation bonds to pay for things like new buildings, renovations and technology upgrades. Albuquerque Public Schools won a $575 million bond and mill levy election in February that will support dozens of projects.

“There are funds that school districts get access to that charter schools don’t,” Callahan said, who is working with the LESC and the LFC to review school funding formulas. “There needs to be a way to look at this equitably. There is still a lot of work that needs to be done.”

In addition, the number of schools applying for charters has gone down naturally because the state budget is tight, creating a kind of “self-imposed moratorium,” according to Callahan.

This fall, APS chartered its first school in seven years, Siembra Leadership High School, which focuses on entrepreneurship and innovation. The state has only granted two charters during the past year. All together, New Mexico has roughly 100 charter schools.

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