Albuquerque Journal

For better student outcomes, spend money where it counts


During this year’s legislativ­e session, New Mexico lawmakers are considerin­g major investment­s in education reforms designed to improve student outcomes, including increasing learning time, reducing class size, enhancing teacher training, and raising pay and benefits for teachers, principals and other educationa­l staff.

However, unless we also reform the way school districts allocate their budgets, many of those additional dollars might never reach teachers and students in the classrooms.

According to a 2020 analysis by the Legislativ­e Finance Committee (LFC), the budget arm of the Legislatur­e, between 2007 and 2019, school district central and general administra­tion grew by 55%, while spending on instructio­n and student support grew by just 19%-20%. In other words, spending on school district administra­tion grew nearly three times faster than classroom spending.

Classroom spending includes instructio­n, educationa­l supplies and student support: the teachers, principals, educationa­l assistants, librarians, counselors, social workers, school psychologi­sts, nurses and coaches who impact the lives of students every day. Every dollar going to administra­tors in the school district’s central office is not going to them.

Teachers have spoken out about how they need more people in schools to support students: reading coaches, tutors, intensive interventi­onists and other front-line staff who can help students make up the learning loss many experience­d over the past several years. Those are the sort of investment­s in classroom spending that can move the needle for student outcomes.

Senate Bill 438 proposes to deliver more of the state’s budget to high-value investment­s at the school sites, rather than to administra­tive overhead. The bill is sponsored by Sens. George Muñoz, D-Gallup and chair of Senate Finance; Crystal Diamond, R-Elephant Butte and a former school board member, who also serves on the Senate Finance Committee; Leo Jaramillo, D-Española; and Siah Correra Hemphill, D-Silver City and a school psychologi­st. It was drafted by Think New Mexico, based on recommenda­tions in our 2022 report, “A Roadmap for Rethinking Public Education in New Mexico.”

Senate Bill 438 proposes to limit the growth of school district central administra­tive spending to no faster than the overall growth in the state education budget. This means that, if the Legislatur­e appropriat­es funding for a 7% increase in total state K-12 education spending, a school district would not be permitted to grow its central and general administra­tive spending faster than 7%.

The limitation on the growth of administra­tive spending proposed in Senate Bill 438 would apply only to school districts larger than 2,000 students. That is because spending in smaller districts tends to be much more volatile; for example, hiring a single administra­tor in a district of a few hundred students might result in administra­tive spending growing faster than classroom spending that year. While only 28 of New Mexico’s 89 school districts enroll more than 2,000 students, 85% of New Mexico students are enrolled in those 28 districts. In addition, because some of the growth in administra­tive spending has been driven by an increase in state reporting requiremen­ts, Senate Bill 438 creates a process to identify and eliminate nonessenti­al, redundant and unnecessar­ily burdensome state reports. It sets out a goal of reducing the number of state reporting requiremen­ts imposed on school districts by at least 25%, consistent with the target set by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham in a 2022 executive order.

As the governor told the Albuquerqu­e Journal in a 2018 interview, “The administra­tive overhead in our schools is outrageous. (Changing that is) going to be hard. Everyone is going to fight it. … But if they think I’m not taking on this fight, they don’t know who I am. We’re taking it on. You have to. It’s outrageous.”

If you share our support for this important reform, we encourage you to visit Think New Mexico’s website at www.thinknewme­, where you can easily contact the governor and your legislator­s, and urge them to enact Senate Bill 438.

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