Does NM Deserve an “F” for Failing to Invest in Badly Underfunded K-12 Despite Huge Reserve Gains? This is a must read!

NM has $60B in reserves, including a 20% increase just last year. So why are we choosing to invest in legal fees defending K-12 underfunding and underperformance instead of addressing these shortfalls? We remain 49th in the nation in child well-being and 50th in child education, yet our billions gather dust instead of addressing the challenge.

Today, we offer a brief comment and link related to yet another report of unethical corporate behavior from energy giant Iberdrola. But the main post focuses on NM’s failure to offer a quality education for all NM children. For our focus on NM K-12, we rely on the Annie E. Casey Kids Count Report, a report from NM Voices for Children, and a searing piece from NM Political Report on what lack of internet translates into for our most at-risk students and the state’s embarrassing response to legal efforts to force it to do something about it.

After reading our report on NM’s failure to invest in education and the impact on low-income children, we offer information on how you can help. Do you have a bit of time to devote to developing a legislative initiative to FINALLY fund NM education adequately? Read on.

Avangrid / Iberdrola Update:
Spain Launches Criminal Investigation of Iberdrola CEO

New Energy Economy stands with a half-dozen other interveners who are questioning the veracity of the proposed PNM merger with Avangrid and its parent company Iberdrola.

Revelations of Avangrid / Iberdrola corporate malfeasance keep piling up…daily. Each day a new disclosure offers more evidence as to why these mega corps are not to be trusted with NM’s energy future. Just Wednesday, the Financial Times revealed that Iberdrola CEO Ignacio Galán is being investigated for “corporate espionage.” Does NM really want to put its energy future in the hands of such untrustworthy partners? Apparently the Governor and Attorney General find nothing to be concerned about.

Click here to read this Financial Times article — it provides more evidence of state leadership’s failure to do due diligence before endorsing this alliance. You have to wonder how large the checks are to the Governor’s war chest, as there is pretty much no other reason for her to support this deal.

NM Ranks 50th in Child Education, Continues to Achieve Soaring Reserve Accounts & Yet Refuses to Invest in Failing Schools & Impoverished Children. What Gives?

The Problem

Let’s start here: On Monday the Annie Casey Foundation published its annual Kids Count Report outlining every state’s performance in relation to an array of child well-being indicators. As usual, NM did not fare well. Despite some trends pointing to slight upward trajectory on a few child indicators, the Casey report finds that NM remains:

  • 49th in overall child well-being;
  • 48th in economic well-being; and
  • 50th in child education, with 80% of NM students not being proficient in math and 37% not graduating on time (national average is 14%).

How does this translate in terms of student learning outcomes for NM students? The table below from NM Voices for Children points to poor outcomes for all NM students when compared to national averages. But the outcomes for low-income children, English Learners, and children with disabilities are particularly alarming.

The Governor and the Legislature Can Address this Problem

Year after year in the NM legislature a fierce debate erupts about investing more of the Permanent Fund in education. Finally this year, legislation was passed that will allow the voters to decide on a 1% increase in funding for early childhood and 1/4% for K-12. But this is a pittance when the state sits on $60B in reserve accounts.

In 2016, the First District Court found with the plaintiffs, Yazzie & Martinez, in their complaint asserting that the state of NM had failed to provide adequate funding to ensure all NM students had equal access to education. But the state legislature sought a special allocation of $1.25M for more legal fees challenging the decision, having already spent more than $6M since 2015 to fight the court’s decision. To give you an idea of the state’s view of what is a quality education, the NM Political Report offers the state’s actual legal filings:

The state argues in legal filings that the law does not require it to provide a “gold standard” of education for at-risk students, including low-income children, children of color, Indigenous students, and those who speak Spanish, Diné or other languages. Legally, the state is only required to provide a “minimally adequate” education with “minimally adequate teaching” and “minimally adequate physical facilities” along with “minimally adequate instrumentalities of learning such as desks, chairs, pencils, and reasonably current textbooks.” 

NM Political Report: “The Great Disconnect”

“Minimally adequate”! How’s that for an inspiring educational policy goal? Maybe that should be MLG’s campaign slogan. On Monday, NM Voices for Children published the annual Kids Count Report along with their own balanced analysis of the state’s performance in investing in quality education. From Voices:

As 25% of our kids live in poverty, it’s important to note that it’s estimated it costs at least 40% more to educate a student in poverty to the same standards as a more affluent student due to the additional stress trauma related to childhood poverty.

Yet, the state has not enacted sufficient revenue-raising measures to provide the additional funding to educate children in low-resource communities and families. In 2022, voters will have the opportunity to pass a constitutional amendment that will increase funding distributions for K-12 schools from the Land Grant Permanent Fund. Although helpful, this would be insufficient to solve the state’s significant education funding shortfalls. 

NM Voices for Children: “New Mexico’s K-12 Schools: Funding the Education System Our Students Deserve”

Keep in mind that every year, NM Voices offers the state detailed reports and presentations on how it can easily restore equity to our tax and revenue systems and generate hundreds of millions of dollars in annual revenue to address state needs. With those funds the state could respond to the Yazzie-Martinez decision by offering quality education to all NM children, not settling for “minimally adequate.”

NM Voices goes on to point out that the State has made efforts to address this inequity by moving away from funding K-12 with local property taxes, which provides wealthy districts a huge advantage, as their property tax base is far larger. Voices points to the state’s 1974 decision to move to a State Equalization Guarantee (SEG) funding formula in the Public School Finance Act. This makes the state the decision-maker on most funding for K-12.

In 1997 the state created an “at-risk” index that was designed to identify school districts with more low-income students, English learners, and migratory students. The index was designed to allocate more funds for districts with higher proportions of at-risk students. But Voices has found this index wholly inadequate and the overall SEG allocations inadequate to achieving funding equity.

“Currently, the SEG allocations do not sufficiently address the needs of students in very high-poverty districts – as the highest poverty districts only receive 2% to 3% more funding per student than does the average district, nowhere near the 40% more needed to educate children in poverty.”

NM Voices for Children: “New Mexico’s K-12 Schools: Funding the Education System Our Students Deserve”

Clearly, the SEG formula even with the “at risk” index is inadequate to meet the need. Just one of the impacts of inadequate funding is a poorly paid teaching staff, something that inevitably leads to teacher shortages, particularly in high-poverty school districts. From Voices:

“One of the reasons New Mexico struggles to fill educator vacancies is the so-called “wage penalty” associated with teaching in public schools. Although benefits make up for some of the wage penalty, New Mexico teachers earn a weekly wage that is almost 30% lower than what other comparable college-educated workers earn. This is the third highest wage penalty for teachers nationwide.[15] “

NM Voices for Children: “New Mexico’s K-12 Schools: Funding the Education System Our Students Deserve”

“Wage penalty” is a common term in wage policy and is often applied to motherhood, social work, and other fields in which salaries for jobs requiring comparable skills pay higher wages (note that the majority of these workers are women). According to the UC Berkeley’s Center on Wage & Employment Dynamics in its report, “The teacher weekly wage penalty hit 21.4 percent in 2018, a record high.” As is all too common, NM ranks near the bottom in the nation with a 30% wage penalty, resulting in a severe shortage of teachers. From UC Berkeley:

“The teacher shortage is real, large and growing, and worse than we thought. When indicators of teacher quality (certification, relevant training, experience, etc.) are taken into account, the shortage is even more acute than currently estimated, with high-poverty schools suffering the most from the shortage of credentialed teachers. ”

UC Berkeley: “Center on Wage & Employment Dynamics”

The NM Political Report dives deeply into another consequence of NM’s inadequate educational funding policy. In its piece “The Great Disconnect” NM Political Report focuses upon the impact of inequitable access to broadband in poor rural and tribal NM, where students have been forced into learning from home due to the pandemic. Certainly, during the pandemic the state had no option but to close school sites, but the woefully inadequate access to internet in rural and tribal NM revealed a startling inequity. Even when schools convene in the fall, access to internet is central to success of students. And the NM Political Report found startling evidence of inequitable access to broadband in rural and tribal NM.

“As part of an emergency technology motion filed by the Yazzie plaintiffs in December 2020, superintendents from Gallup-McKinley, Cuba, Jemez Valley, Zuni, Grants-Cibola and Peñasco school districts wrote affidavits describing the depth of the problems. Between them, thousands of children, most of them Native American, were without access to computers or the internet at home, resulting in large numbers of “lost students.” 

NM Political Report: “The Great Disconnect”

The NM Political Report then went on to outline one example after another of the impact of failed broadband access upon student learning in rural and tribal NM.

  • Nearly 70 percent of Zuni Public Schools’ students — more than 900 out of 1,378 students — did not have internet at home or access to broadband, essentially locking them out of school over the past year of remote learning, the plaintiff’s technology motion said. Nearly 100 percent of students are Indigenous and low-income, or eligible for a free or reduced lunch. Desperate to attend class, some students drove to school and parked outside in search of a Wi-Fi connection. But even this didn’t work as the concrete walls blocked access to the Wi-Fi.
  • Jemez Valley Public Schools Superintendent Susan Passell reported that the district lost communication with 25 percent of the student body, or more than 90 kids, most from the Jemez or Zia pueblos. Students, families, teachers and even school administrators “do not have Wi-Fi in their homes or access to broadband internet sufficient to download a single video-recorded lesson,” Passell wrote.
  • At the Cuba Independent School District, which borders the Navajo Nation, 36 of the 65 high school seniors, all of them Native American, were without broadband access. In the Grants-Cibola County Schools, the district “was not able to connect with some Acoma Pueblo, Laguna Pueblo and Navajo students who have no Internet connectivity.”
  • Gallup-McKinley County Schools went so far as to use the U.S. mail to send and receive homework packets, so that the few students with a computer and Wi-Fi wouldn’t have an unfair advantage over the many without. “Obviously,” stated Superintendent Mike Hyatt, “snail-mailing home packets is not a sustainable or sufficient education for our students.”

We Have Resources

According to a report in Tuesday’s Santa Fe New Mexican, the state government’s investment holdings grew by 21 percent — or $10.3 billion — in the year ending in March, bumping the total value to just shy of $60 billion, according to a quarterly report the Investments and Pensions Oversight Committee perused at a Monday hearing.

“When we look at the one-year returns … there was very strong performance in our investment funds,” said Dawn Iglesias, the Legislative Finance Committee’s chief economist, who presented the report at the hearing.

Santa Fe New Mexican: “New Mexico’s investment funds make gains in pandemic”

The investments are made with money from the now $16.6 billion Public Employees Retirement Association, the $14.7 billion Educational Retirement Board, the $22.5 billion Land Grant Permanent Fund, and the $6 billion Severance Tax Permanent Fund.

So with all these funds pouring into the state’s reserves and with overwhelming evidence of need for state investment in K-12 education, what is the Governor’s response? From the NM Political Report:

“In March 2020, just as the pandemic presented New Mexico with perhaps its worst educational crisis in history, the state unsuccessfully tried to end the court’s oversight and get the action dismissed, arguing that it had “substantially complied” with mandated reforms. The effort threw into question the state’s commitment to compliance in both the short and long term.”

NM Political Report: “The Great Disconnect”

What Can We Do?

There is a critical need for detailed analysis of state options for using more of its reserves either directly or as leverage to secure favorable rates on a bond or other investment vehicle.

  • One-time funding is needed to address the glaring inequity in broadband access impacting mostly rural and tribal NM.
  • The K-12 system needs more than one-time funds to address student broadband issues, so research needs to be conducted into how the legislature can utilize a significant level of reserve funds to increase K-12 funding. Since the need is for a sustained increase in funding, converting some existing reserves into a kind of Education Trust Fund that generates an annual allocation based upon a percentage of the size of the fund should be considered.
  • Research needs to be conducted to identify how NM might better prioritize funding to high-poverty school districts, as the SEG even with the at-risk index is only barely making a dent.
  • Research needs to be conducted to identify tax and revenue strategies that could be used to provide the state with more fiscal resources for funding K-12 education. Here NM Voices has done the heavy lifting, so this is more an advocacy effort.

Once a cogent, research-based funding strategy is developed, we will want to work with allies and sympathetic legislators to craft a bill or bills to advance a cogent, sustainable funding strategy and then advocacy will be needed to educate legislators and to pressure the governor.

For now, Retake is asking if there are one or two of you who would like to work on the research and information gathering required to fuel this effort. Do you have some time that can be devoted to this important work? If so, please write us at

Stay tuned.

In solidarity and hope,

Paul & Roxanne

Categories: Pre-K, K-12 & Higher Education

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