Legislature 2019


Yazzie lawsuit and education bills

By Sherry Robinson
Gallup Independent
            SANTA FE -- Yes, parents and teachers, there will be more money for public schools, but it will have strings attached.
            The proposed budget and new crop of education bills show legislators’ intentions to meet the mandates set by the Yazzie-Martinez vs. New Mexico decision. There is new focus on Native American, Hispanic, and at-risk students. And the restyled Public Education Department will be a partner and not an adversary.
            Even before a state district judge ruled that New Mexico is failing its students, the Legislative Finance Committee was studying schools, funding and outcomes and reached the same conclusion. Charles Sallee, deputy director for program evaluation, summarized LFC findings during a hearing of the House Appropriations and Finance Committee on Thursday.
            Schools have many of the same programs, and yet results are mixed, he said, and some high-poverty schools have been successful. That’s because schools have implemented programs in all sorts of ways, good and bad. Schools that properly implemented programs had the best results, and successful schools follow best practices.
            The state’s education funding formula assures equal resources for all schools, Sallee said, and the districts have a lot of discretion in how they spend money. This gives them flexibility to meet local needs. But PED dispensed no-strings-attached money for programs with little evidence they worked and exercised no oversight to assure districts were spending wisely.
            Rep. Patty Lundstrom, D-Gallup, who chairs the committee, raised the issue of spending “above the line” and “below the line,” which has been a tug of war between the administration and the Legislature. Funding above the line is distributed by formula directly to school districts to spend as they see fit; money below the line was PED’s to award to school districts for certain programs.
            PED preferred targeted initiatives, but the Yazzie ruling found this problematic because not all schools have access to the programs, and from the schools’ perspective, it’s not helpful to “do everything through grants from Santa Fe,” Sallee said.
Lundstrom responded, “We want to allow as much access as possible. We don’t necessarily have a lot of control of that. It’s the responsibility of the PED secretary.”
Rep. Tomás E. Salazar, D-Las Vegas, said, “We need to assure that money expended is being spent appropriately. We need to recognize our obligations under the Indian and Hispanic education acts.”
Lt. Gov. Howie Morales, who is sitting in as education secretary, said PED would be more service oriented and not “us vs. them.”
“There’s a lot to be said for collaboration and communication,” he said. “For too long we’ve been focused on reforming education, but it’s a new day in New Mexico. We should focus on transforming education.”
Lundstrom said, “I like this kind of exchange,” but she reminded her committee members that their work was the budget and not education policy. “We put the budget together, but at the end of the day it falls back to PED for oversight.”
Regarding lawsuit-mandated reforms, she said, “My district leads this charge.”
Beefing up education
The devilish details of education reform are in budgets proposed by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and the LFC.
The governor has asked for $3.29 billion, up about $490 million from FY 2019. The LFC recommends $3.22 billion, up $416.6 million. Either level would be the biggest hike in public education appropriations in the state’s history, according to the LFC.
The increases respond to court rulings and subsequent expert recommendations to beef up cultural and linguistic instruction, expand resources for at-risk students, pay teachers a competitive salary, provide extended learning opportunities, and strengthen PED oversight.
Key initiatives include:
Nearly $120 million for K-5 Plus to ;
$39 million (LFC) to $45 million (governor), up from $29 million for pre-K programs;
$106.8 million to raise school employee salaries. The LFC would increase teacher pay by 5.5 percent, principal pay by 7.5 percent, and other school personnel by 4 percent. The governor’s proposal is similar.
$325 million (governor) or $62.5 million (LFC) for after-school and summer-enrichment programs;
$2.5 million for English learners and bilingual multicultural education programs;
$5.8 million for schools in rural areas.
“There are reams of paper behind every one of these line items,” Lundstrom said during last week’s hearing.
The at-risk index spirals from $22.5 million currently to nearly $80 million proposed by the governor or $113 million proposed by the LFC.
“This is a substantial increase,” Lundstrom said. “Districts need time to ramp up. We can dump money in, but how well is it spent?”
One critical court conclusion was that the lack of culturally relevant materials for Native American students and the state’s failure to cooperate with tribes amounted to noncompliance with the Indian Education Act and the state Constitution. The LFC recommends $25 million for instructional materials. The governor would increase the Indian Education Fund to $6 million from $1.8 million; the LFC recommends $2.5 million.
PED wants to develop a Native American teacher residency program, place teachers in schools serving a substantial Native American student population, expand use of early warning systems, and conduct indigenous action research.
            Bilingual and multicultural programming would see a $7 million increase under the governor’s proposal.
The LFC wants to make several changes in school funding. Small schools in large districts will no longer be able to claim size adjustments, for a savings of $14.8 million. Statewide charter schools will be capped at 25,000. And rural isolation credits will be replaced with rural population units.
These changes are all good for McKinley County, Lundstrom said in an interview.
The astronaut
            Legislators have dropped a handful of bills into the hopper to move this education transformation.
            Lundstrom and four other legislators introduced the LFC’s 48-page bill.
HB 5 would change the public school funding formula, require performance-based budgeting, create a rural-population rate, limit school-size adjustments, limit charter school membership, add extended learning time, create a reform fund, make K-5 Plus an ongoing program, and increase teacher and principal minimum salaries.
HB 5 is “incredibly important,” said Lundstrom. “When the governor and House Speaker Brian Egolf talk about a moonshot for education, I feel like I’m an astronaut.”
Sponsors, besides Lundstrom, are Albuquerque Democrats Sheryl Williams Stapleton, Christine Trujillo, and Andrés Romero, as well as Bobby Gonzales, D-Taos.
“HB 5 has three big pieces around things we feel meet the needs of students and comply with the lawsuit,” Lundstrom said. “First is high quality teachers and school leadership, which means compensation. The second is extending learning opportunities. The third is effective, efficient administration and accountability.”
Other legislators have introduced HB 159 to advance bilingual, multicultural, Hispanic, and Native education; HB 111 to provide culturally and linguistically responsive technical assistance and professional development for educators; HB 120 to prepare bilingual teachers and provide loans; and HB 145 to support after-school and summer programs with $2 million.
“I feel like the clouds have parted and the sun is shining again,” said Rep. Christine Trujillo, a former teacher, “but we have lots of work to do.”