A prominent organization with a focus on state and local government issues has taken a stand against the charter school movement in New Mexico, and it wants the Legislature to halt any new charters for the small, privately run schools that operate with public funds.
The League of Women Voters of New Mexico argues that charter schools are shortchanging students in the state’s traditional public schools.
The league president, Meredith Machen, asked the Legislative Finance Committee earlier this month to introduce a bill that would place a moratorium on new charter schools until the state can improve academic achievement across the board and “ensure funding equity for all public school students.”
Her plea pits the league against New Mexico’s Cabinet secretary of public education, Hanna Skandera, who supports the charter movement.
Skandera called Machen’s proposal unreasonable.
“Our kids’ parents need to be provided with choices, and charter schools give that to them,” Skandera said.
Machen argued that New Mexico’s per-pupil funding formula unfairly provides more money to students in small school districts and charter schools.
“We have plenty of charter schools — 100 or more,” Machen said. “Can we afford to add more and more schools? I don’t think so.”
She said almost half of the increases in the funding formula during the past seven years have gone to charter school students, making the state “fiscally irresponsible” when it comes to the needs of students in traditional public schools.
Charles Sallee, deputy director of the Legislative Finance Committee, confirmed as much in an email. “Funding in the state’s public school funding formula increased by almost $212 million between FY08-FY15 and charter schools, which serve about 7 percent of students statewide, received almost $98 million, or 46 percent, of that amount,” he wrote. “Collectively, the state’s 89 school districts, which serve over 309 thousands, students saw increased formula funding of almost $114 million.”
Sallee said the Legislative Finance Committee will hear a new report on the per-pupil funding formula and how it impacts charters schools sometime in January.
Skandera, while presenting her education budget proposal to the Legislative Finance Committee, told lawmakers that, based on statewide data, seven of the top 10 best-performing schools in the state are charters. Skandera didn’t identify those schools.
“Our charter schools are serving an incredible need,” she said. “We should not paint a broad brush around our schools … especially our charter schools.”
She said many traditional public schools “disappoint our children daily and remain open for decades and decades.”
Rep. Patricia Lundstrom, D-Gallup, asked Skandera and Paul Aguilar, deputy secretary of finance and operations for the Public Education Department, if they would consider creating a separate funding formula for charter schools.
“If they [charters] do work, what’s wrong with having a separate formula for them?” Lundstrom asked.
“It is an equalization formula,” Aguilar responded. “If two separate formulas are not equalized, it could cause a lot of problems.”
New Mexico has about 100 charter schools. More than 60 have been approved by the state. Individual school districts also have the authority to approve charters.
The state Public Education Commission, which operates separately from the Public Education Department, approves or denies charter school applications every year. Skandera, however, has sometimes stepped in to overrule the commission’s decisions.
During the past few years, the Public Education Commission has approved and denied about the same number of charter applications.
For example, it approved two and denied four in 2015. In 2014, it approved three and denied three. In 2013, it approved two and denied three.
The Public Education Commission cannot approve or renew more than 15 charter schools in one year.
Public Education Commissioner Jeff Carr said in an email that he supports Machen’s request, although he did not elaborate.
Whether Machen’s request will gain traction is unclear. State Sen. John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, chairman of the Legislative Finance Committee, said he did not get the impression that there will be a “full-court push” to introduce legislation stopping the creation of new charter schools in the 2016 legislative session, which begins Jan. 19.
“We’ve tried to put a moratorium on that in the past, and the Legislature has either vetoed the idea or it doesn’t get anywhere,” he said.
Charter schools are seen by many as an alternative to traditional public schools in that they have more autonomy, can focus on a particular thread of education — the arts or science, for example — and can offer smaller class sizes.
Machen told the Legislative Finance Committee that the majority of charter schools perform no better than other public schools. National studies on the comparison offer mixed results.
A 2009 study by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes at Stanford University reported that only 17 percent of charters offer “superior education” for students. But a 2015 CREDO report said urban charter schools are outperforming traditional schools in math and reading proficiency.
Contact Robert Nott at 986-3021 or email@example.com.