It’s easy to become overwhelmed when trying to understand who’s making the major decisions that impact your children’s educational experience. The education professionals you interact with on a daily basis are your children’s teachers. You might be unaware that there’s an enormous infrastructure operating within K-12 public education that has a huge influence on that education.
Join us on a journey into the governance of K-12 New Mexico public education.
The Principal is the chief instructional leader and administrative head of your children’s school. The Principal is responsible for implementing state and federal policies as well as policies of the local school board and the Superintendent. They report to the superintendent, and as instructional leader, they’re responsible for motivating and evaluating both teachers and students. They focus on individual student achievement by providing the right combination of instructional programs needed for each student’s success. The Principal is the front line administrator responsible for your children’s unique daily educational experience.
The Superintendent is the school district’s chief executive officer and has responsibility for the day-to-day operations of the school district, including personnel and student disciplinary decisions. The Superintendent is supervised by the local School Board. The Superintendent employs or terminates all employees of the school district; implements the educational policies and rules of the New Mexico Public Education Department (PED) and local school board; supervises the school district; and prepares the school district budget for review and approval by the local school board and the New Mexico PED. The Superintendent has a big impact on your children’s educational experience, especially in two key ways – through people (hiring and personnel management) and money (the creation and execution of the district-wide budget.)
The local School Board is typically made up of five members elected for a 4-year term. If so desired, a school district can grow its school board to seven members with a district election. In Los Alamos, the five school board members are volunteers who are not financially compensated for their service. The Board creates educational policies for the school district that are consistent with the rules of the New Mexico PED. It creates and implements student codes of conduct; defines boundaries for enrollment; hires the superintendent and determines his/her compensation; reviews and approves the school district budget; acquires, leases and disposes of property; has the capacity to sue or be sued; issues general obligation bonds of the school district; and oversees the property management of all facilities belonging to the school district. The local School Board impacts your children’s educational experience chiefly by supervising the Superintendent and making sure school district resources are used in accordance with stated education goals. The School Board also provides a significant service to the citizens of Los Alamos County through its management of school district property, including renovations and new capital projects.
In 2003, the New Mexico State Legislature passed a Constitutional Amendment which focused on school reform. Prior to this legislation, education policy was set by a State Board of Education made up of ten commissioners, five Gubernatorial appointees, and a superintendent of public instruction, appointed and supervised by the board. The 2003 legislation replaced the State Board of Education with the Secretary of Education, who oversees the New Mexico Public Education Department; it also created the Public Education Commission (PEC).
The PEC is made up of 10 elected commissioners who reside in districts from which they are elected. Los Alamos is part of the PEC District Four along with precincts in Bernalillo, Sandoval, and Santa Fe Counties. According to the PEC website, District 4 currently does not have a commissioner assigned to it. The primary role of the PEC is to provide advice to the Secretary of Education. Charter schools can be authorized either by school boards in the school districts in which they are located or they may apply to be authorized by the PEC. The PEC also oversees state-authorized charter schools. The PEC impacts your children’s educational experience through its influence on state-mandated policy developed by the Secretary of Education and by extension, the New Mexico PED.
The Secretary of Education is a cabinet level position that reports to the Governor and implements the Governor’s policy on education. The Secretary hires the staff for the PED, which implements the regulatory policies directed by the Secretary. The Secretary also oversees the budgets of the 89 school districts in New Mexico and the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation. Los Alamos received 69.4 percent, or about $25M, of its K-12 public education funding from the State of New Mexico for the 2013-14 school year.
The Secretary and the PED are tasked with implementing the State Accountability Plan, which grades individual schools on criteria of student achievement, attendance, dropout rate, school safety and parent and community involvement. If schools are underperforming, the Secretary determines what actions the low performing schools need to take to improve their ranking. The Secretary of Education is considered to be the chief financial officer of New Mexico public education; she is also the instructional leader for all New Mexico public schools. The Secretary of Education (and the Governor) has a very significant impact on your children’s educational experience through her decisions about instructional policy (i.e. decisions to implement state-wide the Common Core Standards instructional curriculum and the new Teacher Evaluation System in school year 2013-14) and her oversight of the allocation of state funding to individual school districts.
The Federal Government, through the U.S. Department of Education, influences public education at a state, district and school level through policy and funding. The Federal Government’s 2014 budget request for the Department of Education is $71 billion nationwide, an increase of +4 percent over 2013. Almost three-quarters of that funding goes to financial aid for students in college, special education, and aid to schools with high numbers of children in poverty (Title I). The remaining 28 percent of the budget goes to specific areas aimed at producing major change, like making preschool accessible for all students, implementing reforms at the K-12 level, ensuring that college is affordable, and providing services to students living in poverty.
These K-12 reforms have been branded as a “Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge.” The program is administered by the U. S. Departments of Education and Health and Human Services with a focus on children from birth through age 5. Through this program, the federal government asked states to submit proposals to improve early learning through state programs. In the first years, nine states were awarded $500 million: California, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Ohio, Rhode Island and Washington. In 2012, five additional states were awarded grants: Colorado, Illinois, New Mexico, Oregon and Wisconsin. New Mexico has received $37.5 million as a recipient of this award as of 2013.
New Mexico also receives funding from the federal government for Title I, a federal program to aid schools with high numbers of children in poverty. Los Alamos does not receive Title I funds. However, Los Alamos does receive a special annual supplement for K-12 public education funding of $8 million (22 percent of the total Los Alamos Public School Budget for 2013/14) due to the presence of Los Alamos National Laboratory. Save Our Schools Los Alamos will write a separate column in coming weeks about this topic. The federal government has a significant impact on your children’s education experience especially through the annual $8M of funding that Los Alamos receives due to the federal government’s interest in ensuring that the Los Alamos Public Schools are satisfactory for the employees of Los Alamos National Laboratory.
For more information about these issues, go to: http://parent-information.beleneagles.org/modeules/locker/files/get_group_file.phtml?fid=13014887&gid=1380107; www.ped.state.nm.un/pec/; www.ped.state.nm.us/pec; http://www.ed.gov/budget14; http://soslosalamos.com; Public Education in New Mexico by John B. Mondragon, Ernest S. Stapleton, University of New Mexico Press, 2005; Between Worlds by Bill Richardson, Putnam, 2005.
Editor’s Note: To learn more about Save Our Schools Los Alamos, and access all of the information it has compiled about this issue, visit http://soslosalamos.com. Read a weekly column by Save Our Schools Los Alamos each Sunday in the Los Alamos Daily Post under Education Funding 101.