New Mexico education reforms win Senate, House endorsements
SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Sweeping public education reforms were endorsed by the New Mexico state House and Senate on Tuesday in an effort to boost minimum teacher pay, channel more than $100 million toward low-income students and provide incentives for schools to extend the instructional time.
Nearly identical bills were approved by a 41-0 vote of the Senate and 53-14 in the House.
Provisions of both bills would raise minimum teacher salaries by as much as 12 percent and increase spending on students from low-income and minority families through adjustments to a complex school funding formula.
The state would offer $120 million in annual spending for elementary schools that chose to extend the school year by five weeks through a program called K-5 Plus. The program is initially reserved for schools with a high percentage of low-income students or faltering academics, though other districts can apply for leftover money.
The reform provisions respond to a court order that found the state’s troubled public education system has been failing to provide an adequate education to children from minority and low-income families, including many Hispanic and Native American students who don’t speak English at home.
District Court Judge Sarah Singleton has given the Legislature and Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham until mid-April to come up with a plan to increase resources for public schools. She provided no dollar figure for increased expenditures, but she highlighted programs where there is evidence of academic improvement in students.
“The judge clearly said, ‘You’ve got really good programs, but you don’t fund them for everyone,’” said Sen. Mimi Stewart of Albuquerque, lead sponsor of the Senate bill. “We are funding 91,000 students to use” the five-week extension of elementary school.
The bills endorsed Tuesday would increase spending on public education next year by as much as $330 million. The spending is included in a draft House budget for the coming school year that would boost annual public school spending by $490 million, or 16 percent, to $3.2 billion — nearly half of the state general fund budget.
Architects of the Senate bill said it puts the onus on school districts to decide whether to accept state money that can extend the number of K-12 school days by 10, provide after-school programs or add 80 hours of annual professional development for teachers to improve their craft.
“This is a huge commitment on the part of our districts and on the part of our teachers to do the extended learning time, to do the K-5 Plus,” said Republican Sen. Gay Kernan of Hobbs. “It’s not going to be easy for them. It’s a big commitment.”
Stewart noted that the new accountability measures would require a narrative from school districts to justify spending requests.
The House bill maps out future minimum salary increases for teachers for several years, while the Senate only specifies one year of increases.
A compromise on the issue would send the reform package to the governor, who has expressed support for the bills’ major components.