Quay County Sun - Serving the High Plains

Albuquerque Journal 

More money will not educate a child


August 8, 2018

State District Judge Sarah Singleton is absolutely right when she points out that the “vast majority of New Mexico’s at-risk children finish each school year without the basic literacy and math skills needed to pursue post-secondary education or a career.”

And she’s right when she notes that the majority of this state’s children can’t read or do math at grade level. Our state’s proficiency rates are downright appalling, and it’s unacceptable.

Yes, we agree with her that education is vital to our democracy, and every child in this state can learn and deserves a solid education.

But the landmark ruling Singleton issued July 20 that the state is violating the constitutional rights of at-risk students by failing to provide them with a “sufficient” education and ordering state lawmakers and the governor to pump more money into the system suffers from a fatal flaw and should be appealed.

The harsh reality is that it takes a lot more than just increased funding to bring about success in the classroom.

Just look at Rio Grande High School. Millions of dollars in extra funding have been poured into the Albuquerque South Valley school since 1987, when a U.S. Justice Department mediator helped hammer out an improvement plan for the chronically underperforming school. At the heart of the resulting Sambrano Agreement was the idea that students in the South Valley deserved the same quality education as their more affluent counterparts in the Northeast Heights.

Over the ensuing three decades, Albuquerque Public Schools tried a dizzying array of reforms, everything from early childhood programs for South Valley children and summer programs to smaller class sizes and even $5,000 stipends for teachers.

So 31 years later, how many Rio Grande students are doing math and reading at grade level? In math, fewer than 6 percent; in English, just 28 percent. Statewide, 22 percent of students can do math at grade level, and 31 percent can read.

We must continue trying to improve educational outcomes, and attempting to address achievement gaps between minority, poor or disabled students and their white, middle-class counterparts. But it takes hard work and data-driven reform.

New Mexico already spends 44 percent of its recurring appropriations on public schools, and lawmakers are continually pumping more money into education — $2.7 billion this year.

Since 2011, New Mexico education spending has grown by about $450 million.

Over the last seven years, lawmakers and the governor have doubled spending on programs aimed at helping young children and their families.

A silver lining to this ruling is that Singleton makes it clear that beyond pumping more money into schools, PED must hold districts accountable.

“The new scheme should include a system of accountability to measure whether the programs and services actually provide the opportunity for a sound basic education and to assure that the local districts are spending the funds provided in a way that efficiently and effectively meets the needs of at-risk students,” she wrote.

If this ruling stands, PED must work hard to ensure that every penny of that extra money is spent in the classroom. And the agency should look at Texico and Gadsden — two schools that already work hard to allocate a greater percentage of their resources to the classroom — as role models.

That said, this ruling should be appealed because it’s bad law and bad public policy.

— Albuquerque Journal


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