The New Mexico Public Education Department will receive an estimated $979 million from the federal stimulus package, and educators say they will use the money to reimagine what education looks like.

Some local school districts plan to create outdoor spaces that help enrich kids’ overall education, while others will upgrade heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems in classrooms.

Turquoise Trail Charter School in Santa Fe could receive up to $1 million from the stimulus package based on initial estimates from the state, said Chris Eide, the school’s interim head administrator.

Schools can be innovative about how they use the funds to help change the education landscape, he said.

“There is going to be this large public perception to do something big,” Eide said. “I don’t think anybody can say, ‘We still need a million dollars to make up for what we were doing in COVID.’ No, we adapted. We met that need. We’ve done it. Now, how do you build on that? To me, that’s what this really is.”

Veronica García, superintendent of Santa Fe Public Schools, said the district could see up to $20 million in stimulus funds, and some of that could go toward specialized programs for students. She said tutoring and after-school programs could help students recover from time lost in the classroom during the pandemic. Another group that could receive attention is special-education students, García said, especially if they need services the district normally couldn’t afford.

She said districts around the state also are waiting to see what funding they receive from the Legislature, which will wrap up its 60-day session Saturday. That could help them determine how to use the federal assistance.

“No matter how we slice it or dice it, this additional revenue will be beneficial to the district,” García said.

Española Public Schools Superintendent Fred Trujillo said the $5.5 million he and his administrative team estimate the district could receive would go toward improving its 13 buildings. He said many of his schools need new HVAC systems, and the district also is considering creating outdoor learning spaces that could alleviate the number of students indoors during the pandemic.

Trujillo also said school districts will need to provide programs and services to help those who struggled the most during remote learning. The Public Education Department mandated that districts and charter schools must use 20 percent of their stimulus funds to address learning loss through evidence-based interventions that also respond to students’ social, emotional and academic needs.

Trujillo said the district is committed to aiding students in recovering from the challenges of remote learning.

“We know there was going to be some learning loss, and we are going to do everything we can to make that up,” Trujillo said. “So that may entail some after-school tutoring, summer school. It could entail additional interventions or programs for our kids through classes during the school day.”

The Public Education Department said those interventions also must address the disproportionate impact of the coronavirus on historically underserved subgroups, such as Native Americans, children from low-income families, children with disabilities, English-language learners, migrant students, students experiencing homelessness, and children and youth in foster care.

The agency said it will spend almost $98 million on what it called “evidence-based” programs intended to help bridge the learning gap the pandemic exposed, as well as previously established priorities, including accelerated instruction, closing the digital divide, and supporting students with disabilities and at-risk students.

“This funding will support the very evidence-based initiatives New Mexico has already targeted to help our schools and our students recover from the COVID-19 pandemic between now and September 2023,” said Ryan Stewart, the state’s public education secretary.

Eide said he and his staff are discussing tiered interventions that focus on at-risk and underserved students. One idea is what he called the “Academy for Extraordinary Circumstance,” which would be a primarily online school done in small groups so that instructors and administrators can give students the attention they need to get caught up in school.

“This [would be] like a school within a school — a sort of learning lab opportunity for us,” Eide said.

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