Education Funding 101: How New Mexico and Los Alamos Compare …

Education Funding 101:
How New Mexico and Los Alamos Compare to Other States in K-12 Public Education Funding
By Save Our Schools Los Alamos

This week, we’ll review how New Mexico and Los Alamos compare to other states in funding for K-12 public education. 

This review is particularly relevant for Los Alamos families who moved here because of work opportunities with the Lab, combined with the reputation Los Alamos has for excellent K-12 public schools and a family-friendly environment. Many of these families have the opportunity to live and work elsewhere; and attracting and retaining them builds our community, and the Lab.

A quality public K-12 education depends on many variables, including the effectiveness of the teaching staff, the stability and demographic profile of the community, and parent involvement. While these factors are important, funding is also a very significant variable; one that influences LAPS’ ability to hire and retain effective teachers, and to provide a broad curriculum with student opportunities for athletic, cultural, social, and intellectual enrichment.

For fiscal year 2011, New Mexico ranked 33rd nationally in per pupil spending with 32 states spending more than New Mexico and 16 states spending less.

The following data from the U.S. Department of Education National Center of Educational Statistics compares 2011 state and local per pupil funding for K-12 public education, excluding federal funding. The data includes current expenditures that support instruction, services and other elementary and secondary costs, but excludes capital outlays, other programs, and interest on long-term debt.  Multi-year comparisons are inflation-adjusted. The District of Columbia and Hawaii are not included as they each have only one school district and because of their very high costs they are not good benchmarks for other states. Los Alamos data comes from the LAPS five year forecast presented to the School Board in September and October, 2013. The states are ranked in a forced quintile distribution.

Low States (2011 average = $7,906) – New Mexico is 15 percent above this average

Utah ($6,326), Idaho ($6,821), Oklahoma ($7,631), Arizona ($7,782), Mississippi ($7,926), North Carolina ($8,267), Nevada ($8,411), Tennessee ($8,484), Texas ($8,685), Alabama ($8,726).

Below Average States (2011 average = $9,125) New Mexico is 1 percent above this average

Colorado ($8,786), South Carolina ($8,903), South Dakota ($8,931), Florida ($9,030), California ($9,146), Kentucky ($9,228), New Mexico ($9,250), Indiana ($9,251), Georgia ($9,259), Missouri ($9,461).

Average States (2011 average  = $10,136) New Mexico is 9 percent below this average

Arkansas ($9,496), Oregon ($9,516), Washington ($9,619), Iowa ($9,795), Kansas ($9,802), Virginia ($10,363), Michigan ($10,577), Minnesota ($10,674), Montana ($10,719), Louisiana ($10,799).

Above Average States (2011 average =$12,119) New Mexico is 31 percent below this average

North Dakota ($10,898), Ohio ($11,395), Nebraska ($11,540), Illinois ($11,742), Wisconsin ($11,946), West Virginia ($11,978), Delaware ($12,467), Maine ($12,576), Pennsylvania ($13,096), New Hampshire ($13,548).

High States (2011 average = $15,828) New Mexico is 71 percent below this average

Maryland ($14,123), Massachusetts ($14,285), Vermont ($14,707), Rhode Island ($14,948), Wyoming ($15,815), Connecticut ($16,224), Alaska ($16,663), New Jersey ($16,855), New York ($18,834).

Between the housing bubble, the crash of the financial industry, and the impacts of the Great Recession, the U.S. economy has been hammered over the past several years, with household finances and government revenues taking big hits. This negative environment impacted K-12 education in some states significantly. The following information shows the trend of K-12 education funding over the five year time period from 2007 to 2011 by state.

Reductions of  5% to 10%

California (-5.7%), Georgia (-6.1%), Idaho (-5.3%), Indiana (-6%), Oklahoma (-5.2%), Virginia (-6.3%).

Reductions of up to 5%

Alabama (-4.1%), Arizona (-1.8%), Colorado (-2.1%), Delaware (-2.1%), Florida (-2.7%), Kansas (-2.1%), Maine (-0.3%), Michigan (-1.1%), Mississippi (-1.9%), Missouri (-1.3%), Nevada (-0.4%), New Jersey (-3.7%), New Mexico (-3.5%), North Carolina (-3.1%), Oregon (-1.9%), South Carolina (-3.4%), Vermont (-0.4%).

Additions of up to 5%

Arkansas (+4.5%), Iowa (+2.9%), Massachusetts (+3.2%), Minnesota (+2.8%), Rhode Island (+2.6%), South Dakota (+2.3%), Texas (+2.2%), Utah (+2.3%), Washington (+4.2%).

Additions of 5% to 25%

Alaska (+25%), Connecticut (+9.7%), Illinois (+13%), Kentucky (+7.3%), Louisiana (+11.6%), Maryland (+8.8%), Montana (+7.7%), Nebraska (+5.8%), New Hampshire (+13.3%), New York (+11.9%), North Dakota (+16.0), Ohio (+5.9%), Pennsylvania (+10.9%), Tennessee (+9.9%), West Virginia (+13.7%), Wisconsin (+6.4%), Wyoming (+10.1%).

Clearly, New Mexico remains in a lower tier for educational funding compared to the nation. Because of the rigid funding formula for education in New Mexico, Los Alamos Public Schools are shoehorned into that low tier, unable to supplement state funding with local money for operating expenses. 

While the situation is worse than we would like for New Mexico, it’s yet worse for Los Alamos. While New Mexico is in the second-lowest tier nationally, Los Alamos is on the low end of the New Mexico distribution, due to the State Equalization Guarantee formula that determines the way state funds are distributed. In the fiscal year 2011, Los Alamos received $25,416,447 in state and local revenues with an enrollment of 3,410 — or $7,453 per pupil.  

Based on State and Local funding, Los Alamos is not in the second lowest quintile with New Mexico overall; but is near the bottom of the lowest quintile. If we were a state, Los Alamos would rank 47th in per pupil State and Local funding.  

As one of the most prosperous and highly educated communities in the country, this level of educational support for our children seems unbalanced.

Save Our Schools Los Alamos is concerned that this low base funding, combined with the projected declines in funding the School Administration has publicly announced, poses a severe threat to schools that are operating on the edge now. Class sizes are rising, faculty and staff salaries are stagnating to the point where we risk losing our most capable educators; and we are concerned that educational, academic and cultural enrichment opportunities for our students face increasing pressure moving forward.

The State of New Mexico allows local communities to spend local funds to build school facilities to community standards, and we are building beautiful facilities. But the State expressly prohibits the use of local funds to operate those facilities to community standards. SOSLA is seeking relief from that double standard so that our school operations can be funded to meet community standards.

To read more about this issue and learn about Save Our Schools Los Alamos, go to