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Lawmakers Have Opportunity To Maximize Education Spending In the Classroom


Commentary: While some school districts and charter schools have done an exemplary job of investing resources in their classrooms, a startling amount of education spending has been diverted to central administration in recent years.

According to a 2020 analysis by the Legislative Finance Committee, the budget arm of the legislature, between 2007 and 2019, school district central and general administration grew by 55% while spending on instruction and student support grew by just 19-20%. This means that the rate of growth of spending on school district administration was nearly three times faster than the rate of growth in classroom spending.

Last year, according to an analysis by the Public Education Department, New Mexico’s education budget increased by 7.4% while “on average, school districts budgeted approximately a 26% increase in administrative expenditures from 2021 to 2022.”

Classroom spending includes instruction, instructional support, and student support: the teachers, principals, teaching assistants, librarians, counselors, nurses, and coaches who impact the lives of students every day. Every dollar going to administration isn’t going to them.

In 2018, Judge Sarah Singleton ruled in the Yazzie-Martinez case that New Mexico schools serving the most at-risk children have not been properly funded. This decision has been followed by a historic increase in state education funding. Unfortunately, not enough of that money has trickled down to students and teachers in the classroom.

Senate Bill 75, sponsored by Senator Bobby Gonzales, a former school superintendent, and Senator Shannon Pinto, a former teacher, would change that. Senate Bill 75 would limit the growth of central administrative spending and make sure that more new funding goes to the classroom where we see the greatest impact on student outcomes.

We know that streamlining central administration and focusing resources in the classroom can work because there are school districts in New Mexico that have done it.

For example, Cynthia Nava explains how she was able to improve student performance when she was Superintendent of Gadsden School District in southern New Mexico: “When I came in as Superintendent, the district was facing a huge financial shortfall. In order to balance the budget, we placed a laser focus on every dollar spent. Our goal was to avoid cutting any dollars that directly impacted the students, so we cut back in the central office instead. We built a culture of high expectations and proven success because we put the needs of students first in all of our decision-making.”

Opponents of Senate Bill 75 have argued that it takes away local control from school boards and superintendents to determine how much to spend on administration and the classroom. However, Senate Bill 75 would give principals and teachers more local control by determining what their needs are at the school level and giving them the funding they need to meet those needs, rather than concentrating resources in school district central administrative offices.

States ranging from blue California to red Oklahoma have enacted laws to maximize the amount of their education budgets that are reaching students and teachers in the classroom.

Governor Lujan Grisham has added Senate Bill 75 to her legislative agenda, making it a priority for the 2022 session. As she told the Albuquerque Journal in a 2018 interview, “The administrative overhead in our schools is outrageous. [Changing that is] going to be hard. Everyone is going to fight it. … But if they think I’m not taking on this fight, they don’t know who I am. We’re taking it on. You have to. It’s outrageous.”

Now it is the legislature’s turn to step up and send Senate Bill 75 to the governor’s desk.

We encourage parents and teachers to visit the Action Center on Think New Mexico’s website and call on their legislators to pass Senate Bill 75 and ensure that the big investments being made in education will actually reach students and teachers in New Mexico’s classrooms.

Abenicio Baldonado is Education Reform Director of the statewide, results-oriented think tank Think New Mexico. Baldonado is a graduate of Robertson High School in Las Vegas, and a former civics and government teacher at Tierra Encantada and later a liaison for the Public Education Department.