New Mexico’s education funding and student performance came under intense scrutiny during a recent meeting of the Legislative Finance Committee that brought together legislators, education officials, and advocacy groups. The discussion arose as legislators worked on the state budget, growing upset about the state’s lack of progress in academic results despite the increase in funding for education.
The largest area of frustration from legislators is around funding of the school system. In 2018 a district court judge ruled that the state is not meeting its constitutional requirements to provide a “sufficient” education to students. Since that decision – named for the plaintiff parties Yazzie and Martinez – the state has increased spending on education initiatives by nearly a third, growing from $2.69 billion in 2018 to $4.2 billion in this year’s budget. Education funding accounts for 44 percent of state spending.
New Mexico’s education funding formula, initially created in 1974, was considered groundbreaking in its time. Legislators were told the funding formula championed the principles of equality and recognized the need to address the unique requirements of special education and at-risk students. Over the years, this formula has undergone more than 80 adjustments, yet concerns have emerged about its adequacy in keeping pace with the evolving needs of the education system.
The central tenet of the funding formula lies in its allocation of funds to individual districts, predominantly contingent on student population. Although the state has increased total appropriations in recent years, a challenge has arisen as student enrollment has been steadily declining since fiscal year 2016. According to members of the LFC, this decline has placed considerable pressure on maintaining equitable per-student funding levels.
In terms of student performance, the state has witnessed a series of changes in assessments which the state uses to track student achievement, making it challenging to establish a clear performance trend. Legislators were told that school years 2020 and 2021 did not have assessments in part due to the state’s transition away from PARCC testing and the COVID-19 pandemic. During this time, students did not take their annual assessments.
However, amid this uncertainty, there is a glimmer of hope in reading proficiency, suggesting that some strategies might be yielding positive results. After a delayed release of assessment data from school year 2022, the state is reporting a four percent increase in student reading proficiency. While the governor’s office celebrated the four percent increase, no one discussed the “less than one percent” decrease in student mathematics performance. Legislators heard these results and called for the Public Education Department to address issues like chronic absenteeism and high school graduation rates, particularly among vulnerable and marginalized student groups.
LFC staff members told legislators about positive trends in New Mexico’s educator workforce. Average teacher salaries have been on an upward trajectory, bringing them closer to the national average, with over $261 million in new funding just this year for teacher salaries.
While there is a concerted effort to improve education funding and student outcomes in the state, legislators expressed frustration with the New Mexico Public Education Department (PED) for not presenting a clear and comprehensive plan to address the concerns raised in the 2018 Yazzie/Martinez decision, which primarily pertains to the achievement of marginalized student groups.
During the meeting, Representative Derrick Lente (D – Rio Arriba, Sandoval, and San Juan) did not mince words, labeling the lack of action from the PED as “disgusting.” The department now faces mounting pressure to address these concerns comprehensively and urgently, ensuring that every student in New Mexico, regardless of their background, receives an equitable and high-quality education.“In just addressing Yazzie-Martinez we’ve put $1.3 billion in the budget, and we haven’t moved the needle at all,” LFC Chairman George Muñoz (D – Cibola, McKinley, San Juan) said, “We’re increasing funding in a declining population, so we are paying more for kids and we’re still not getting there.” Muñoz continued, “What are we going to do to move the needle? We [must] find what moves the needle for every single kid, I don’t care where they live, whether it’s Rock Spring or Clayton, everyone of them has got to graduate and have the chance to go into higher education.”