Last year, Public Education Secretary Ryan Stewart presented an intriguing idea: tweak how the state pays for children’s education to funnel additional assistance to those students most at risk.
With the Yazzie/Martinez lawsuit requiring that the state do more to address the needs of certain groups of children — Native, low-income, special education and English-language learners — Secretary Stewart’s approach was met with interest. It is time to try something new; business as usual has failed to make the progress New Mexico’s children deserve.
Now, Senate Bill 17, introduced by Senate President Pro Tem Mimi Stewart, seeks to carry forward Secretary Stewart’s idea (and no, they are not related). The legislation will be heard Wednesday in the Senate Public Education Committee.
The brilliance of this idea is that it moves the funds from the state, past the district and down to the school level — using a Family Income Index to bring dollars to schools where a majority of students are poor.
It’s a more precise targeting of need, designed to get results. Dollars that reach the schools will be spent on proven strategies, including reading intervention, tutoring, community schools and family outreach. Other options: after-school enrichment programs, buying culturally and linguistically diverse texts, or hiring additional counselors and social workers.
The legislation specifies that a third of a school’s funding would go for evidence-based structured literacy interventions; another third for math instruction strategies proven to work; and a third on case management, tutoring and after-school and summer enrichment programs.
Resources will go where they can do the most good and where research has shown the programs get results.
We like this approach, first because it recognizes that children who are extremely poor need targeted interventions, the sort of assistance that can help the child and impact an entire school. Concentrated poverty complicates teaching and learning. Extra funds can help ease those complications. The key is spending the money the right way.
Under the legislation, the Public Education Department would use data from its partners — the Taxation and Revenue and Human Services departments — to calculate the household income of every New Mexico public school student.
Then, the state would determine the percentage of students in five income categories at every public school. Those range from above average to extreme low income. Each year, the Public Education Department would produce a list ranking schools with the highest numbers of low-income students.
Secretary Stewart said the legislation “would target funding to help schools do what we know works.”
Sen. Stewart, a retired educator, introduced the legislation because she sees it as “an innovative way to approach an age-old problem. Schools with large populations of low-income students need specific programs and services to support them, and these things cost money.”
Right now, some $20 million has been identified from the Public Education Reform Fund in the House Appropriations budget recommendation for the program. While not enough, it’s a start. Targeting concentrated poverty is the right approach, one that holds promise for New Mexico’s children.