Read what my guest blogger Representative Mimi Stewart has to say about the upcoming New Mexico legislative special session and the implications of education budget cuts for New Mexico's children. Mimi is an educator and represents New Mexico's 21st District. She
has served in the legislature for 13 years is entering her 16th year as a legislator in the New Mexico Legislature!
The special session is approaching and in almost every newspaper article, the question comes up, "Should we cut education?" Those in favor, most of the Gang of 12, who are making decisions for the rest of us, answer, "Yes, because the education portion of the budget is so large, it's only fair to cut education!"
We also used Federal stimulus money to plug a $167 million hole in our ability to fully fund the budget for education…..a temporary fix that will create more problems later.
So now we're in trouble.
Education is now about 43% of the state budget, way down from 52% 10 years ago. There are 330,000 students in the public schools, being taught by 21,000 teachers and almost as many support people, without which the schools could not operate. Think of any societal ills, and then ask how these problems might impact students and thus our public schools. Children of alcoholic parents have horrible home lives and terrible parenting. Children of adults in the penal system often don't know where they will be sleeping that night or are being raised by someone else. For those and so many other children, we need counselors, social workers, extended school year programs, and before & after school programs.
We are required by law to educate any student who enrolls and that includes children with all kinds of special needs, like the medically fragile, requiring professional nurses, physical therapists, occupational therapists, speech and language pathologists, and other support people that are required to run a public school. In short, it takes a lot of money to fund the public schools because of the needs of our students.
For many years, the public school districts have been coming to the Legislature concerned that we are not funding them sufficiently. Over 20 of our 89 districts have had to apply for emergency supplemental funding to make basic payroll while the Legislature continues to mandate even more worthwhile programs but without sufficient funding.
This has happened year after year. After 8 years of vetoes from both Johnson and Richardson, we finally funded a two-year study of our school funding and asked the question: What would constitute sufficient funding for all public school students, as required by our New Mexico constitution and vital to our future?
An outside, objective, well-respected research firm, has answered that question: We are under-funded by a minimum of 15% statewide, approximately $350 million.
Those are the funds we need to reach all students, graduate more, and have higher scores on reading, math, and science. This funding is not for increased salaries, but to provide lower class sizes, longer school year, intervention specialists to work with students not progressing, credit recovery programs, and enhancement of fine arts, physical education, vocational and bilingual education, and gifted programs that the public wants and that students need.
Now we are being asked to slash education funding even further?
It will be difficult for many legislators to cut funds from a system that in fact needs more funding to properly serve 330,000 students. It is absolutely short-sighted to cut crucial staff, raise class sizes, or limit support personnel.
In many areas of our state, the schools represent the main employer of the town and our rural communities thrive on the economic stability of the schools.
As research shows, of all the things that define us, education appears to be the most highly correlated with success. The improvements in our schools that are underway will all be negatively impacted by increased cuts, especially in the middle of the school year. Students will have to be moved in and out of classrooms if we cut teachers or stop receiving educational support with cuts to support professionals. Job loss will be significant; student achievement will suffer, and the state's economy will become worse. I join the Governor and many other legislators in refusing to cut education.