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New Mexico judge says public school building funding unfair

December 30, 2020 GMT

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — A New Mexico judge has ruled that the state’s system for funding the construction of buildings in public school districts is unconstitutional and ordered officials to devise a fair system.

The ruling by 11th Judicial District Court Judge Louis E. DePauli Jr. on Tuesday said the funding system was not properly equitable.

“The trial evidence established that property-wealthy districts can spend millions and millions of dollars to build physical facilities over and above the (Public School Capital Outlay Act) adequacy standards for physical facilities that property-poor districts can only dream about, all the while bypassing the utterly complex and tortuous process of applying for and receiving ‘grant assistance...’” DePauli said.

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Democratic state Rep. Patty Lundstrom said lawmakers should change the system in the upcoming 60-day legislative session.

“I am very willing and ready to work on getting this corrected as the judge has directed,” said Lundstrom, the chairwoman of the House Appropriations and Finance Committee. “It is my area of the state that has seen this disproportionate formula.”

Democratic state Sen. Mimi Stewart believes that some parts of the judge’s ruling don’t accurately describe the state’s capital outlay funding and that the state should appeal the order. Stewart was not specific as to what inaccuracies she was referring to, the Albuquerque Journal reported.

DePauli said in his report that the current system makes “property-poor” districts pay more in taxes but receive less.

Bob Rosebrough, a lawyer representing one of the districts suing the state, said a significant amount of funding for the construction and maintenance of public schools is dependent on how much money property taxes can generate.

“(The system) is not ‘uniform’ as intended because the funding scheme, being directly tied to the property wealth of the school districts, allows property-wealthy districts, at their discretion, to raise and spend much more money than property-poor districts to build facilities to their satisfaction while paying significantly lower tax rates,” the judge found in his ruling.