SANTA FE, N.M. (KRQE) – The state is spending more on education, but analysts tell lawmakers at a recent Legislative Finance Committee meeting that it hasn’t led to the boost in student performance they hoped for. “Roughly $6 billion we’re pumping into our public education system better, and we’ve got zero to show for it,” said Sen. George Muñoz (D-Gallup)
According to LFC analysts, while money going into education has increased, student enrollment has decreased about 1% each year for the last few years. “Given the demographics and projections that we’re hearing, we don’t see that recovering in the near future either,” said Sunny Liu, Principal Fiscal Analyst for the LFC.
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Among all the students, reading proficiency has increased by a few percentage points since last year to 38%. Math is holding steady in the mid-twenties. A problem still plaguing the school system is students not showing up to class. “Chronic absenteeism or missing 10% of school has increased substantially since pandemic and it still remains very high particularly for at-risk groups or mostly for homeless students,” Liu told lawmakers.
In a separate presentation, lawmakers also learned about the challenges of special education in New Mexico. Roughly 68,000 students, or one in five students, across the state are in special education for learning disabilities, being gifted, or both. “However, increased state funding for special education has not corresponded with improved student outcomes and New Mexico remains in the bottom third of states for special education proficiencies,” an expert told the LFC.
The state also has a shortage of 260 special education teachers mainly because of the inability to attract existing working teachers with multiple licenses to teach special ed. Across the state, the high school graduation rate hovers around 76%. Experts said 1,900 more students, or an average of 50 more students per school, need to graduate to meet the national average.
“What are we going to do to move the needle? What are we going to get 19 hundred more kids to graduate,” said Sen. Muñoz. The legislature has made moves in recent years to bolster student performance with initiatives including higher salaries for teachers.