Legislature: Workshop aims to turn education advocates into citizen lobbyists

Linda Siegle, a lobbyist for the Santa Fe Public Schools, leads a legislative workshop on Saturday that was focused on learning to be a citizen lobbyist. Photo: Luis Sánchez Saturno/The New Mexican

Linda Siegle, a lobbyist for the Santa Fe Public Schools, leads a legislative workshop on Saturday that was focused on learning to be a citizen lobbyist. Photo: Luis Sánchez Saturno/The New Mexican

Note: This story is part of a package of stories on the New Mexico Legislature that the Quay County Sun has obtained from the Santa Fe New Mexican newspaper.

By Steve Terrell

The New Mexican

Lobbyists for Santa Fe Public Schools told a group of teachers and potential education activists Saturday that the school district’s top priority in the upcoming legislative session is increasing the amount of “above-the-line” funds for education — which means local districts have more control over how the funds are spent.

“Below-the-line” funds, on the other hand, give the state Public Education Department more control over spending.

The above-the-line vs. below-the-line battle promises to be one of the most intensely fought fights of the session, which begins Tuesday.

Lobbyists Linda Siegle and Virginia Vigil conducted a workshop at the district’s Educational Services Center for citizens interested in lobbying legislators for education funds. Though the school district has several priorities in the session, Siegle said the “above-the-line” issue is the one that should get attention.

The Public Education Department’s budget, as proposed by the administration, includes $45 million in “above-the-line” funds and $55 million in “below-the-line” funds. These funds include more than $10 million for “rewarding highly effective teachers,” as well as statewide reading initiatives and early-childhood programs.

State Public Education Secretary-designate Hanna Skandera has argued that below-the-line funds help the department hold districts accountable for the money spent. The funds are tied to academic achievement.

Many superintendents have argued that the state should give them more leeway with spending.

A handout distributed to workshop attendees Saturday said that “above-the-line” spending means more money flows through the state’s school funding formula, which provides districts “with direct control over how this money is spent.”

Below-the-line funding, meanwhile, “is designated by the state for districts to spend on specific items, programs, or reforms, which may not address an individual district’s needs.”

The House Appropriations and Finance Committee and the Senate Finance Committee are primarily responsible for crafting the budget, Siegle said. There are only three Santa Fe-area lawmakers who sit on those committees — Rep. Luciano “Lucky” Varela, Rep. Stephanie Garcia-Richard (who also is on the House Education Committee) and Sen. Nancy Rodriguez.

Other local legislators “really don’t have much say about the budget,” Siegle said. “But you can always go to your friends in other school districts and tell them to talk to their members [who sit on those committees].”

Siegle and Vigil urged those present to “pack the room with parents and advocates” when the committees hear the education budget.

Other priorities of the school district listed on the handout include:

• Maintaining the 5.8 percent level of contributions to education from the state’s Land Grant Permanent Fund. The distributions, which come from interest earned on the fund, is scheduled to go down to 5.5 percent this year, then down to 5 percent in 2016. Rep. Jim Trujillo, D-Santa Fe, will sponsor a constitutional amendment to maintain the 5.8 percent. Opponents say using too much of the interest could endanger the fund in the future.

• Amend the school funding formula to increase spending on programs for low-income students.

Contact Steve Terrell at sterrell@sfnewmexican.com. Read his political blog at roundhouseroundup.com.

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