Legislature proposals may mean longer school year

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By Tris DeRoma

By the time the New Mexico State Legislature breaks in March, the school year could be longer for students in grades kindergarten through fifth grade. 

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham wants to direct $113 million toward extending the school year by 25 days for students in kindergarten through fifth grade at most schools. All other schools would receive funding or an additional three school days to extend learning time. 

In Los Alamos, school officials are waiting to see how the district could benefit from school extension legislation. 

According to Superintendent Kurt Steinhaus, Los Alamos Public Schools doesn’t qualify the state’s current version of the school extension program, K-3 Plus. 

“Anything that will improve learning options for students we’re going to apply for it. Anything that would make things better for students and parents,” Steinhaus said.

Whitney Holland, president of the Los Alamos Federation of School Employees, said a July New Mexico District Court ruling in a landmark case on how the state funds education will definitely have an impact on the New Mexico State Legislature’s decision.

“Right now there are a lot of suggestions being made on how to address public education in response to the Yazzie ruling,” Holland said. “First and foremost, we should focus on what is best for students, our schools, and the profession.”

Another extension proposal is included in the Appropriations Act of 2019. One of the bill’s sponsors, State Sen. Carlos Cisneros, (D-6), said the bill contains funding that will allow school districts who want to extend the school year to a maximum 10 days. 

Cisneros said studies have shown certain students could benefit from the 10-day extension.

“There is some real strong advocacy for improving,” Cisneros said. For example, if a child is not learning at the pace or the level they should be and are close to and ready for promotion to the next grade but yet don’t have all the necessary skills and knowledge to move on, those 10 days could make the difference as to whether or not that child moves on. There is some rationale behind that.”

If the bill passes with the 10-day extension in it, Cisneros said, school districts would have the option to choose it or not.

“This is where we say we need to allow for districts to make that determination based on what they witness to be the best interests of the student body in that district,” Cisneros said. “We don’t say that all schools must do the 290 days, we say there’s money in there if the school district chooses to add days to their school year for whatever reason.”