Los Alamos Public Schools have received supplemental funding from the federal government for operating expenses since the town was created in the 1940s. The federal government fully funded the schools until 1950, when the schools became part of the New Mexico system. From 1950 to 1997, the federal government contributed 35 percent of operating costs; which had risen to $8 million by 1997. Since then, under various federal laws, the schools have received a flat $8 million per year from the Department of Energy.
The $8 million payment by DOE is unique to Los Alamos. It is made because the federal government realized that to attract and retain the caliber of employee needed by the National Laboratory, quality educational opportunities for Lab families are a non-negotiable requirement for institutional success. Unfortunately, that $8 million now only accounts for 22 percent of the school budget, rather than the 35 percent that was provided for half a century.
This article takes a broader look at federal education funding – the big picture; who gets it in New Mexico, and its significance to the educational experience of students at LAPS.
For fiscal year 2013, the U.S. Department of Education provided more than $40 billion a year for K-12 education programs, and other federal agencies support school activities beyond that. While there are very many initiatives in place, there are a few core programs that make up the bulk of the funding.
No Child Left Behind (Title 1) is the largest K-12 program, providing school districts nationally with over $14 billion this year to help disadvantaged students from birth – 12th grade. Districts qualify for Title 1 funds based on the number of poor students served; payouts vary based on the level of poverty in the district.
Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) Special Education State Grants is the next largest program and will provide over $12 billion nationally this year. IDEA is a law ensuring services to children with disabilities; it governs how states and public agencies provide early intervention, special education and related services to more than 6.5 million eligible infants, toddlers, children and youth with disabilities.
Impact Aid amounted to almost $1.3 billion in fiscal 2013. Impact Aid is provided to school districts across the county which have federally-owned or Indian lands within their boundaries. Because Federal property is exempt from local property taxes, this aid is offered to help local school districts overcome negative funding consequences of lost property tax revenue to their school systems. Impact Aid is provided to local school districts with concentrations of students living on Indian lands, military bases, or other Federal properties.
The Department of Agriculture provides funding for the child nutrition program which was $20.4 billion nationally in fiscal year 2013. This nutrition program provides free and reduced priced meals (breakfast, lunch, after-school, and meals in the summer) to low-income children; in fiscal year 2012, this program served more than 31 million students with five billion lunches served.
The Department of Health and Human services administers the Pre-K Head Start program with funding of $6.5 billion. Today, Head Start has a nationwide enrollment of 831,000. Families must be at or below the federal poverty level ($23,550 for a family of four in 2013) or must meet other requirements (e.g., foster parents, children with special needs) to participate in the program.
So, how do these programs impact K-12 education funding in New Mexico and Los Alamos?
In 2011, New Mexico received over $636 million in federal funds for K-12 education according to reports from the U.S. Census. As you would assume, population is a huge driver in determining how much federal aid a state will receive; New Mexico ranked 32nd out of 50 states in total federal funding and 35 out of 50 states in population. For categories like Title 1 and IDEA, New Mexico ranks in about the same place compared to other states.
In 2011, LAPS received almost $10.4 million in federal funding or about $3,000 per pupil. This includes the $8 million DOE subsidy mentioned earlier as well as $751,000 for special education and about $1.6 million in short-term economic stimulus funds. LAPS did not receive federal funding for Title 1 or for the federal nutrition program.
There is a common belief that the $8 million in special funding puts Los Alamos in the front rank of federally supported school districts. Our research shows that belief to be incorrect, because we participate so lightly in other federal programs.
Looking at federal funding per pupil in 2011, Los Alamos ranks 19th out of 89 New Mexico school districts – with the $8 million subsidy considered. But the 19th spot is a bit misleading because we are at the high end of the tightly clustered middle group.
According to U.S. Census reports, the 18 districts that received more in federal funding per pupil than Los Alamos include: Zuni School District ($8,449 per pupil), Gallup-McKinley County Schools ($5,851 per pupil), Central Consolidated School District ($5,748 per pupil), and Bernalillo School District ($3,937).
All 89 school districts in New Mexico receive federal funding:
- 1 district receives $9,000 + per pupil;
- 2 districts receive $8,000 – $8,999 per pupil;
- 1 district receives $7,000 – $7,999 per pupil;
- 2 districts receive $6,000 – $6,999 per pupil;
- 6 districts receive $5,000 – $5,999 per pupil;
- 1 district receives $4,000 – $4,999 per pupil;
- 6 districts receive $3,000 – $3,999 per pupil (Bernalillo is at the top of this group, Los Alamos is at the bottom);
- 20 districts receive $2,000 – $2,999 per pupil;
- 47 districts receive $1,000 – $1,999 per pupil; and
- 3 districts receive $700 – $999 per pupil.
Because of the $8 million in funding from the Department of Energy, Los Alamos Public Schools are in the high middle of the federal funding distribution for New Mexico; but clearly that $8 million does not rocket Los Alamos into the ranks of the districts that receive top federal funding.
More importantly, as discussed in a previous article, Los Alamos is on the low end of the per pupil funding distribution from the New Mexico State Education Equalization Guarantee, which weights payments based on social and economic challenges that, thankfully, are not as severe here as they are in many other districts.
Because federal funding (where we are ahead of the pack) accounts for only 22 percent of our school funding and the State Education Equalization formula (where we are behind the pack) provides almost all of the rest, the net result is that – even with the $8 million from DOE – we are a poorly funded school district by New Mexico standards; and an absurdly underfunded school district when compared to benchmark communities across the country with comparable levels of income and adult academic attainment.
It is a testament to our school faculty, staff, and families that Los Alamos has been able to sustain academic achievement and enrichment in the face of these funding challenges; but Save Our Schools Los Alamos is concerned that our school funding trend threatens those positive outcomes moving forward. Further, we are concerned that this trend threatens recruiting and retention at the Laboratory; and in turn, the vitality and viability of our community.
Read more about Save Our Schools Los Alamos at http://soslosalamos.com.