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 2021 Legislative Update

March 23, 2021

SESSION ENDS WITH SIGNIFICANT GAINS FOR PUBLIC EDUCATION

WINNING INVESTMENTS INCLUDE FAMILY INCOME INDEX, COMMUNITY SCHOOLS

SANTA FE — Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s education moonshot got a $400 million boost during the just-concluded legislative session, including more than $200 million that will go directly to school districts and charter schools and $215 million to fund various innovative, evidence-based initiatives.

“In 2019, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham promised a moonshot to create the nation’s best cradle-to-career education system. The New Mexico Legislature has provided much-needed fuel as we continue on that historic trajectory,” Public Education Secretary Ryan Stewart said.

K-12 education highlights from the just-concluded legislative session include:

  • The Family Income Index, funded with $30 million over the next two years, would target money toward schools serving the most economically disadvantaged students for evidence based interventions.
  • The community schools program would expand with a $5 million appropriation for FY22 and an additional $20 million to be used in future years.
  • In support of the governor’s ongoing priority of improving education for Native American students, the legislature appropriated $10.6 million for tribal education departments, tribal libraries and tribally based Native American language programs.
  • New Mexico will end a longstanding and controversial practice of reducing state funding based on Impact Aid to districts, including those with high proportions of Native American students.
  • Voters will decide on a constitutional amendment to tap the Land Grant Permanent Fund to provide reliable funding for early childhood and K-12 education.

The budget also includes $45 million to restore funding that was reduced during the 2020 first special session.

FAMILY INCOME INDEX

The Legislature approved Senate Bill 17, creating an innovative tool to pinpoint schools serving large low-income populations in order to direct additional funding to them. The Public Education Department first proposed the Family Income Index in November, and it became one of the governor’s priority bills. The bill received a $30 million, two-year appropriation to support math and reading interventions and other student-support strategies.

COMMUNITY SCHOOL STRATEGY

The Legislature signified its support for the community school strategy with a $5 million appropriation for FY22 and $20 million more after that. Currently, the state funds 33 community schools. The new funding will allow more New Mexico schools to adopt this strategy, which involves schools partnering with the local community to provide high-quality resources and other supports to help mitigate barriers to school success.

IMPACT AID

House Bill 6 gives districts with federally impacted land access to more than $60 million to better serve their students. It also requires transparency and accountability for the use of discretionary funds. A $35 million appropriation from the general fund added to a $31 million appropriation from the special session holds districts harmless from the impact of this change in policy.

This measure ends the longstanding practice of reducing state funding by an amount equal to 75% of federal funding received by school districts for impact aid — including many districts serving high proportions of Native American students. The governor identified it as a priority bill and part of her administration’s response to the Martinez and Yazzie Consolidated Lawsuit.

PERMANENT FUNDING

Voters will decide in November whether the state’s Land Grant Permanent Fund should be tapped annually to access more than $100 million for use in K-12 and early childhood education. The Legislature adopted House Joint Resolution 1, sending the proposed constitutional amendment to the ballot.

“This is an opportunity to impact generations of New Mexico students,” Secretary Stewart said. “Assuming voters agree, New Mexico’s children would be protected from the boom-bust cycles of state revenues with a reliable and fixed source of annual revenue. This would mitigate concerns that sound, evidence-based programs that work one year would be curtailed the next because of budget shortfalls.”

CULTURALLY SENSITIVE, INCLUSIVE EDUCATION

  • The Public Education Department would hire a new liaison to oversee the educational needs of Black children under House Bill 43, the Black Education Act. Provisions of the act would be carried out over the next few years.
  • The Special Education Ombud Act, House Bill 222, provides resources to help families better advocate for the needs of students with disabilities.
  • Students could not be penalized for wearing traditional hairstyles like dreadlocks or braids or religious coverings under House Bill 29/Senate Bill 80.
  • The governor has already signed into law House Bill 52, which codifies in statute the Bilingual Multicultural Education Advisory council.

EDUCATOR WORKFORCE

  • Gov. Lujan Grisham has signed House Bill 22, amending the Grow Your Own Teachers Act to expand who qualifies for the scholarship program, which is designed to increase the number of teachers in the state.
  • House Bill 188 would require the Public Education Department to create a license endorsement in secondary computer science. All licensed teachers could qualify by demonstrating sufficient content knowledge.
  • Scholarships totaling $5 million would be available for educators who want to apply for National Board Certification. The funding is included in the General Appropriations Act, House Bill 2.
  • The General Appropriations Act also includes:
    • $1 million for teacher residencies
    • $1 million for New Mexico’s new educator evaluation program, Elevate NM
    • $1 million for mobile panic buttons for classroom teachers

MORE SCHOOL TIME

Senate Bill 40 gives districts and charter schools more flexibility in implementing the K-5 Plus and Extended Learning Time programs. The measure was amended to remove a requirement that all districts adopt the programs. Additionally, House Bill 2, the General Appropriations Bill, includes a $70 million non-recurring appropriation for a pilot project on extended learning using equivalent hours.

“Increasing the time students spend learning is a proven strategy to improve academic outcomes. Although the Legislature decided against making these two programs mandatory, we appreciate the new flexibilities afforded by SB40 and the pilot project outlined in HB2,” Stewart said. “Because of these important changes, we fully expect many more districts and schools to adapt an extended school year program in the coming year as a powerful tool to accelerate learning as students return to full in-person learning.”

BY-THE-NUMBERS

$220 million: Increase in funding for the State Equalization Guarantee, the formula used to distribute funds to districts and charter schools. Includes:

  • $45 million to remove a credit the state was taking for funding from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, known as the CARES Act
  • $35 million to hold districts harmless from impact aid credits
  • $80 million for the K-5 Plus and Extended Learning Time programs
  • $5 million for instructional materials

$135 million: One-time expenditures for priorities of the governor, including:

  • $25 million for community schools
  • $30 million for the Family Income Index over two years
  • $1.5 million for cyber security
  • $20.9 million for Impact Aid liability to the state support reserve fund
  • $15.5 million for state support reserve fund to increase aggressive approach to unit value
  • $2 million for data systems upgrades
  • $25 million for statewide digital access and broadband initiatives
  • $10.6 million for Tribal Remedy Framework
  • $3 million for Career Technical Education

$79 million: One-time expenditures for priorities of the Legislature, including:

  • $70 million for extended learning and equivalent hours pilot
  • $5 million for National Board scholarships for teachers
  • $1 million for teacher residencies
  • $1 million for educator evaluation
  • $1 million for mobile panic buttons
  • $400,000 for Black Education Act
  • $500,000 to supplement STEM programs​


 SCHOOLS IN 25 COUNTIES MAY LAUNCH HYBRID MODEL SEPT. 8

Sept. 3, 2020

SANTA FE — School districts and charter schools in 25 New Mexico counties have been cleared to begin a hybrid mode of learning that allows students from pre-K through fifth grade to come to school two days a week wearing face masks and staying at least 6 feet away from others.

A complete list of districts and charters that have cleared strict safety reopening criteria from the state Public Education Department and may choose to reopen as soon as Tuesday, Sept. 8, in the hybrid mode will be posted on the PED website Friday.

Public Education Secretary Ryan Stewart made the announcement at a virtual news conference Thursday afternoon, based on local public health conditions and school readiness to protect students and staff from the virus and to respond rapidly if a case emerges.

“New Mexico educators from the Public Education Department to the classroom remain committed to two overarching goals: Protecting the health and safety of children and staff and maximizing the number of in-person learning opportunities,” Stewart said. “We have been preparing for this extensively, and I’m confident we will execute a safe in-person return for all communities that choose to do so.”

The hybrid model means cohorts of students rotate between remote and in-person learning, significantly reducing the number of students together in a classroom at the same time in order to maintain social distancing and allow schools time to thoroughly clean between groups.

The hybrid model is being phased in beginning Tuesday for children in grades pre-K through five in approved districts and charters. (Sixth-graders may also return if that’s the highest grade in a school.) Older students will remain in remote learning for at least the near-term future no matter the status of their district or charter.

School districts and charters that opened in August were required to use a remote-only instructional model. To move from remote to hybrid learning beginning next week, districts and charters had to meet specific safety criteria, including:

  • They must be in counties with test positivity rates and new daily case rates that follow below the thresholds established by the state Department of Health. This map shows those counties in green.
  • They must have a PED-approved plan demonstrating that their instructional, social-emotional and family engagement processes are documented and established; and,
  • They must provide assurances that they’ve established comprehensive safety and response protocols, including COVID-Safe Practices for students and educators, provision of personal protective equipment, cleaning procedures and rapid response procedures in the event of a positive COVID-19 case.

Districts and charters can be in green counties but still not be ready to move to the hybrid mode if they are still finalizing their reentry plan or if their local school board or charter leaders deem a return to be unsafe. Schools and charters located in counties that are colored red, orange or yellow must remain closed for now to in-person learning even if they have an approved reentry plan. The Public Education Department will continue working with those districts to ensure successful delivery of remote learning in the interim.

Once granted official eligibility to return to in-person instruction by the state Public Education Department, local districts and charters decide whether to move to the hybrid mode or remain in an exclusively remote-learning model for now.

“In short, PED is not requiring any district or charter school to open for in-person learning. PED stands ready to assist every district, charter and school in the state in meeting the strict safety requirements and preparation efforts if those local entities decide they want to move into the hybrid model,” Stewart said. “In addition to having an approved reentry plan, each school district and charter school needs to provide assurance that they can effectively implement COVID Safe Practices. To that end, PED along with the State Fire Marshal’s Office, National Guard and local fire are available to provide on-site guidance and support to ensure that schools are implementing COVID Safe Practices properly so that educators and students are as safe as possible.”

New Mexico’s school reentry planning process has been months in the making and involved close coordination with school districts and local leaders at every step. A school reentry task force provided detailed guidance later finalized by Stewart and his executive team.

Each district or charter was required to submit a reentry plan showing protocols in place to protect students and staff from the virus and to respond rapidly if a case emerges. PED officials continue reviewing plans based on this rubric and working closely with districts to address deficiencies and get their plans approved.

School districts and charters across the state have already purchased more than 3.5 million masks, and PED has worked closely with the state Department of Homeland Security & Emergency Management to distribute another 700,000 in the next two weeks.

PED has also:

  • Offered additional training to administrators and their designees to ensure all schools are fully prepared to engage in rapid responses where positive COVID-19 cases occur;
  • Established enforcement and inspection protocols to be sure schools follow their reentry plans;
  • Created this portal where anyone concerned that a school is not following COVID-Safe Practices may report the incident anonymously.

“New Mexico owes a debt of gratitude to the outstanding educators who were forced to adapt quickly to remote learning in the spring and who must now adapt again to a hybrid mode. Their commitment and hard work throughout this project is nothing short of heroic. With their help, our focus will continue to be the effective delivery of high-quality education to our children during this pandemic,” Stewart said.

“We are also grateful to all New Mexicans who, by wearing masks and practicing social distancing, have reversed the dangerous upward trend in virus cases we saw this summer. In doing so, they made it possible for our youngest learners to return to school. We must keep up that effort on their behalf and on behalf of the older students still waiting for their turn,” Stewart said.