Education 101: The 2015 New Mexico State Budget, After Fight, Benefits K-12 Education

Education 101:
The 2015 New Mexico State Budget, After Fight, Benefits K-12 Education
By Save Our Schools Los Alamos

The New Mexico State Legislature ended its 30-day legislative session this week, sending its 2015 budget recommendation to Gov. Susana Martinez just a day before the session ended. The Governor has until March 12 to consider it and has the right to a line item veto should she choose to use it. So while the fight over education funding isn’t over yet, it’s looking pretty good for K-12 education.

From our perch in Los Alamos, we think it’s fair to say that so far this year, K-12 education funding is benefiting from election year partisan politics.

The recommended state budget of $6.2 billion reflects an overall spending increase of 5 percent ($293 million) of which nearly $171 million goes to K-12 education. That’s an increase of 6.6 percent in K-12 education funding — up from the Legislature’s original K-12 education budget request of 5.6 percent ($143 million) and up from the Governor’s original budget request of 3.9 percent ($100 million).

Those raises tagged for education, exclude a 3 percent raise for all state employees, including teachers and education assistants; and an increase to the base pay for teachers of roughly $2,000 per tier.

In every category, education fared better than expected, and it’s worth looking at how that happened.

Based on news reports in the Los Alamos Daily Post, the Santa Fe New Mexican, the Albuquerque Journal, the New Mexico Watchdog, and documents published by the New Mexico State Senate, it seems that both Democrats and Republicans were firmly entrenched and the budget was not going to pass unless each side got what it wanted on education. So instead of a compromise, both sides got what they wanted, resulting in a substantial increase in education spending overall. 

House Republicans were committed to the Governor’s “below-the-line” budget items, controlled by the New Mexico Public Education Department, and they largely got them. House Democrats were not going to back off their position that local school boards need to continue to control the vast majority of K-12 funds, and the budget included the funds they supported, in addition to the Governor’s initiatives. So, both parties can claim victory and bipartisan cooperation.

Indeed, the largest teachers union, the American Federation of Teachers-New Mexico, praised the budget for its increases in teacher compensation. Representative Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, Chairwoman of the House Education Committee, lauded the budget for providing local school districts with an increase of $136 million for operating costs. Meanwhile, the Governor’s office issued a statement about the budget, complementing its spirit of compromise and focus on the importance of investing in education reforms. It seems that the rising tide of funding has lifted all boats.

This is quite a reversal from what was predicted a few weeks ago, when the House of Representatives reached a stalemate with a 34-34 vote on their budget, during which “Education ideology” was blamed for the impasse.  Republicans insisted that the Governor’s “education reforms” be included and Democrats resisted any move to take funding from local school board control and reallocate it to centralized state control. This is a bit unusual since it’s typically Republicans who support addressing problems locally, at the lowest possible level of government and it’s often Democrats who support more centralized solutions.

Without a budget from the House to discuss, and the end of the legislative session rapidly approaching, the State Senate created a substitute budget that was basically the House budget with an additional $17.5 million in education reform money allocated to the New Mexico Public Education Department for the Governor’s education reform initiatives. The Senate substitute also contained a “compromise” provision that gives local school districts control over the implementation of these education reforms and allows school districts to participate on a voluntary rather than mandatory basis.

The substitute bill passed the Senate with an unanimous vote and was approved by the House of Representatives Wednesday by a 58-8 vote. The budget now sits on the Governor’s desk for her consideration.

Save Our Schools Los Alamos knows that partisan politics is not good government. We really do believe that the best interests of the majority of citizens are met when both parties come together and find ways to compromise on issues. If the issue benefiting from this year’s situation was something not related to K-12 education, we can assure you that we’d be complaining vociferously about it.

But since Save Our Schools Los Alamos, like many others, strongly believe that K-12 education in New Mexico is significantly underfunded on a structural basis, we’re enjoying this brief moment when the political winds benefit a cause we care deeply about.

How The 2015 Budget Impacts K-12 Education Funding

New Mexico K-12 education will receive a 6.6 percent, or almost $171 million, increase in funding in fiscal year 2015.

Like all other state employees, teachers and education assistants will receive a pay raise of 3 percent. Base salaries for teachers will increase by about $2,000 per tier: $32,000 for Tier 1; $42,000 for Tier 2; and $52,000 for Tier 3 levels.

There is $17 million allocated to merit pay for teachers and principals. This is one of the Governor’s key education reforms and would be subject to the New Mexico Senate’s budget language that creates local control over whether the school district chooses to apply for these funds.

There is $6 million allocated to reducing classroom sizes over the next three years to a maximum of 20 students for Kindergarten; 22 students in grades 1-3; 24 students in grades 4-6; and 160 students maximum for middle and high school teachers.

Early childhood education initiatives will receive an additional $28 million.

Non-recurring general fund appropriations for 2015 include $2.5 million for the continued implementation of K-12 common core standards.

There is $2 million earmarked for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics K-12 education initiatives.

The budget does not support the Governor’s request for funding for a reading and retention program that would have given the state the final authority on determining whether third grade students who aren’t reading at the third grade level would be held back. It does include $14.5 million for an early reading initiative to provide funding for reading coaches and other early intervention programs for students in K-3.

Also of Interest

Meeting for only 30 days, the New Mexico Legislature was busy. It passed 91 bills and four constitutional amendments.

Three years after she came to office, New Mexico Public Education Secretary-designate Hannah Skandera was given a confirmation hearing. However, the Senate Rules Committee deadlocked on moving Secretary-designate Skandera’s confirmation to the Senate floor for a full vote, so the head of the New Mexico Public Education Department continues to be both unconfirmed by the New Mexico State Legislature and in control of the Administration’s education policy.

On the subject of local jurisdictions and their contributions to K-12 operating expenses, there was a bill introduced and supported along party lines in the House of Representatives that would have required Dona Ana County to stop using a portion of a spaceport tax for local K-12 funding. Apparently the bill passed the House of Representatives with a 40-26 vote and then died in the Senate Finance Committee, never to come to a vote in the Senate.

Save Our Schools Los Alamos views this last item in two ways. 

First, how unfortunate that some New Mexico communities would object to Dona Ana County’s unique opportunity to secure supplemental funding for K-12 operating expenses. As long as the New Mexico State Government is implementing the State Equalization Guarantee and considers itself to be meeting the State Constitutional requirements of providing a “uniform and sufficient education” to New Mexico children, Save Our Schools Los Alamos fails to understand why any New Mexico community would be hostile to school districts that have an opportunity to provide their children with an educational opportunity that is better than the New Mexico median.

Second, we applaud Dona Ana County for finding innovative ways to provide their children with an educational experience that is more than “sufficient” as mandated by the New Mexico State Constitution.

Save Our Schools Los Alamos continues to argue that all New Mexico communities should have the right to supplement local funds to K-12 operating expenses, above and beyond the funds provided by the State Equalization Guarantee.

To read more about New Mexico K-12 education funding and Save Our Schools Los Alamos, go to: