Enrollment drop could hurt funding for New Mexico schools
SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Members of the Legislative Education Study Committee heard pleas Wednesday to keep up school funding, even if enrollment is dropping because of the pandemic.
School funding in New Mexico is determined by the number of students enrolled at the 40-day mark, known by some educators as the “money count.” That count is not yet complete, but preliminary numbers show a significant drop in the state’s largest school district.
Reductions in enrollment are being seen across districts as a significant number of parents put their children into homeschooling, delay enrollment, or struggle to connect with online programs.
In Albuquerque, enrollment has dropped by about 4,000 students, bringing the total to 76,000. School district spokesperson Monica Armenta cautioned that the 5% drop could change because enrollment numbers still are fluid.
Interim Superintendent Scott Elder believes that kindergarten students account for much of the undercount, with many families likely to hold their children back from entering school for one year.
“We could be looking at a kindergarten class of 150% of projection, perhaps even higher,” Elder told the committee.
He said that if his district is penalized under the current funding structure, it could lose $36 million despite increased costs and a higher student population next year.
Last year, enrollment in Albuquerque had dropped by 1,000, a change attributed to a drop in the student population across New Mexico, where the population hasn’t grown much over the past decade.
During an online conversation Tuesday with Albuquerque Democratic committee member Rep. Natalie Figueroa, Public Education Secretary Ryan Stewart pitched viewers on legislation to freeze funding based on pre-pandemic numbers.
“We’ve heard from many many many of our board members and superintendents about the impact that the pandemic is having on enrollment this year and the way in which it’s really an outlier,” Stewart said.
That message was echoed by superintendents speaking to the legislative panel Wednesday, with lawmakers signaling support for legislation that would be drafted ahead of the January session.
“I like the idea of us not counting this year,” said Sen. Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque.
She called for the delay of some school reporting and funding mandates made more burdensome by the pandemic.
“We’re all going to have to be (dealing) with the effects of this year for several years so let’s give more flexibility, let’s not hamstring our districts,” Stewart said.
Attanasio is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues. Follow Attanasio on Twitter.