Sen. Mimi Stewart
By ROBERT NOTT
As educators continue to wonder and worry about what school will look like for both them and their students this fall, state legislators began grappling with the reality of how badly budget cuts will affect classroom learning.
The outlook, some said, is not pretty.
The appropriations bill introduced in the House during the first day of a special legislative session proposes a number of cuts to help fill the state’s budgetary gap — including a $44 million-plus hit to the state’s public education funding formula and an across-the-board reduction of teacher salary raises, from some $59 million to $9 million.
Public educators demonstrating outside the Roundhouse today during the first day of a special legislative session were not happy.
“Unfortunately, a lot of the cuts are going to impact student services and resources,” said teacher Grace Mayer, head of the Santa Fe branch of the National Education Association. “And if you cut our salaries and promised raises, a lot of people [educators] will be leaving before next year.”
She said public education funding shouldn’t be cut, particularly during the COVID-19 crisis, since students and educators already have considerable concerns about returning to school in the autumn.
“A lot of students are in emotional crisis and we need to be back to help them in full force,” she said.
Santa Fe Public Schools Superintendent Veronica García also reiterated concerns about the proposed cuts and their impact on students, noting the district has some 300 employees who are 60 years old or older. She said she wonders how many will choose to return if salaries are cut or stagnate.
The cuts to education funding, including a decrease in financial support for teacher mentorship programs, “are going to set us back,” she said.
Some state legislators say they are doing the best they can and there’s still time and effort being put into minimizing the impact on public schools.
Sen. Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque and a retired educator, said legislators are “cutting education less than anything else in the budget. But it still has to reined in because of the shortfall. We have to find recurring revenue to cut, and that is the challenge.”
Still, she said, some of the potential cuts are “heartbreaking”.
Rep. Andres Romero, D-Albuquerque and a public educator, let out a long sigh when asked about the impact of cuts against the backdrop of the Yazzie/Martinez v. New Mexico lawsuit.
A judge in 2018 ruled the state has not done enough to help special education students, those from impoverished families and Native American and Hispanic children. She ordered state leaders to remedy the problem by providing more resources to help those children.
Romero said the court ruling “and its impact on our students is very much at the forefront of these discussions and rightfully so”.
Earlier this year the Legislature, flush with solid oil and gas revenue, approved a $7.6 billion budget, with some 45 percent of that designed for public education.
Now lawmakers are looking at other potential cuts, such a decrease in physical education funding to the tune of $6 million and a drop of $40 million in support for the summer K-5 Plus program, which gives children an additional 25 days of learning time.
Charles Goodmacher, spokesman for Transform Education New Mexico, a coalition of educational agencies, expressed dismay at the prospect of the cuts.
Ultimately, he said, it proves the state is “going in the opposite direction of satisfying the court’s decree … when it comes to serving those students who need more services to have equal access to a good education”.