NM school districts address spending priorities using federal relief money


NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – A new report is revealing how New Mexico school districts and charter schools plan to spend all of that federal covid money, from programs addressing learning loss, to PPE and air quality improvement. This comes amid the need to get students caught up after more than a year of remote learning.

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Albuquerque Public Schools already started addressing learning loss with its intensive summer programming to let students make up credits. There will be even more help in the coming year.

“We’ll be addressing it with some intensive support with some direct one-on-one tutoring, and really working on the unfinished learning plan that we post on our website,” APS Superintendent Scott Elder explained.

The state’s Legislative Finance Committee released a report this week saying school closures and remote learning because of the pandemic could have cost New Mexico students three months to a year of learning.

“Students didn’t get an opportunity to learn all the content they needed to learn this year and we’re working as a state to collectively help them catch up,” LFC Deputy Director Charles Sallee said.

Districts and charter schools submitted their budgets to the Public Education Department this month detailing how they’ve budgeted $490 million in federal relief money.

Only nine percent, or about $44-million, would go to activities to address learning loss. That includes tutoring, after-school programs and about half of New Mexico’s schools have opted for a longer school year. Plus, another 8 percent, or $39 million, to provide even more help for at-risk students. APS said it estimates its percentages to be much higher.

Officials said about $113 million is being spent on technology and another $74 million on facility repairs to improve air quality statewide. PED Secretary Ryan Stewart said those are also critical academic investments.

“We set out a list of priorities that we want schools to be focused on. One of them is addressing learning loss, another is closing the digital divide, another is making sure they have safe buildings,” Stewart stated.

“This was emergency response money that was spent at a time when we were in crisis mode so the first round of funding was designed to go directly into things like PPE, filtration, HVAC,” Elder said. “And then in the second round, when we realized we were going to be out longer than we thought, we had to do things like buy technology because we had to have devices for kids and we had to invest in access.”

The LFC said districts can still adjust their budgets.

“I think they’ll find because they did a lot of really good work last summer in preparing to reopen that they may not need as much resources locked up into the other types of spending categories and they’ll have an opportunity to double down on helping students catch up on where they need to be through highly effective intervention,” Sallee said. “They’ve got more resources than they’ve ever had before to do those types of things.”

Schools will also be getting another $980 million from the latest stimulus package passed in March. Schools are required to spend 20-percent of the money they receive on closing the school loss gap for students.

Rio Rancho Public Schools released the following statement in regard to how it’s working to address learning loss and spend its federal dollars:

“We have and will continue to offer opportunities that support student learning. Some of these include scholarships for tuition, registration, and fees for eligible students for district-based supplemental educational opportunities such as credit recovery, summer programs, before and after school learning opportunities, and weekend or evening courses. In addition, we are utilizing funds to expand our Rio Rancho Cyber Academy (Grades 6-12) and open our new SpaRRk Academy (Grades K-5) which provide virtual learning options for students. We are looking at ways to better support our students’ mental health needs through additional counselors and social workers. In addition, we have added more staff members to support our students with disabilities and necessary recovery services. We are also doing HVAC improvements and have purchased technology and other items necessary to meet our COVID-safety needs.”

Santa Fe Public Schools will be providing enriched or evidence-based after-school activities and programs at every site, with tutoring available as an option, a spokesperson said in an email. He adds there will be “small group interventions to fill learning gaps, small group targeted academic supports during the school day and after-school. Social and emotional support for all students, including daily lessons for K-8.”

Read the full report below:

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