Legislative report faults state school funding system

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By Associated Press

SANTA FE— New Mexico needs to revamp how it distributes more than $2 billion a year in taxpayer money to public schools because the current system is too complicated, difficult to administer and shortchanges needy students, according to a report released Wednesday.
Two legislative committees issued the report critical of the state’s school funding formula, which was established in the 1970s and is supposed to treat districts equitably. Nearly half of the state’s annual budget goes to pay for operations of New Mexico’s more than 170 school districts and charter schools.
The Legislative Finance Committee and Legislative Education Study Committee said the school funding formula has “generally served the state well” but needs to be modernized.
“Some elements of the funding formula create incentives that run contrary to, or do not effectively support, recent education policy and research,” the report said.
For example, the current financing system rewards schools for placing students into special education programs rather than intervening earlier to help those children, lawmakers were told. The formula provides a base amount of funding for all students but then provides for extra aid tied to other factors, such as the size of the school and student needs including special education services.
The report said New Mexico fails to effectively allocate money to serve the neediest students, such as those from low-income families and English language learners. About 10 percent additional state aid goes to “at-risk students” while some other states provide much more per student, with Texas offering 25 percent more and an additional 50 percent in Minnesota, according to the report.
An independent study of New Mexico’s school funding recommended in 2008 a major overhaul of the financing formula. However, the proposal wasn’t approved by the Legislature or implemented because it was too costly. The study concluded that schools needed a 15 percent increase in state aid to adequately educate students — about $350 million.
The report by the legislative committee recommended some of the same changes proposed by the earlier study, such as revamping a provision that provides extra state aid to schools that hire teachers with more experience and academic degrees.
“This incentive exists despite no clear body of recent research that concludes highly educated teachers with more experience increase student achievement,” the report said.