NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – Catching students up on learning lost due to the pandemic has been a priority for the state and lawmakers. School districts had access to millions of dollars in state funding to extend their school year, so why didn’t they use it?

New Mexico lawmakers set aside $280-million during January’s legislative session for two different extended school programs districts could use to make up for lost learning time during the pandemic. One program adds ten school days to the year and the other is K-5 Plus which adds 25 school days for students in kindergarten through fifth grade. “So we have seen a trend where many districts are opting in to extended learning for 10 days, not as many for K-5 Plus,” said the New Mexico Public Education Department Deputy Secretary Katarina Sandoval.

So far the Legislative Finance Committee said schools have requested funding for about 8,699 kids to use the K-5 Plus program. Compared to last year, that number was 14,242. For the extended learning program, 142,656 students could get those extra ten days this year. Last year that number was 141,622. So why aren’t districts using these programs? It seems many are suffering from COVID-19 fatigue.

“We did have some districts participating in extended learning time program and I met with superintendents and boards and they said ‘we love the program Katarina, we are just tired,'” said Sandoval. “‘Our communities are exhausted, our teachers are tired and we need to pause, we need a break to let people recoup, rejuvenate over the summer and we’re not going to participate in the programs this school year but count us in for the following.'”

However, districts like Rio Rancho did use the ten extra days last year and again this year. They said the extra learning time provided things like small group tutoring, support for students who had to quarantine, and before and after school activities which resulted in improved student engagement and social and emotional success.

Only 20 Albuquerque Public Schools are using the ten extra days this year. KRQE News 13 asked why the district didn’t extend the year to each school, APS said the reasons vary but 60 percent of parents, students and staff opposed a longer school year.

In an LFC meeting, some lawmakers tossed around the idea of making it mandatory for all schools to extend their school year or even implement a phased-in approach to that. However, some disagreed saying what works for one district might not work for all. According to analysts, about $217-million set aside for these programs is untouched and will go back into the education budget for next year.