From Schoolhouse To Roundhouse: How Authentic Teacher Voice Shaped (Most) Of The State’s Education Budget For Next Year

From Schoolhouse To Roundhouse: How Authentic Teacher Voice Shaped (Most) Of The State’s Education Budget For Next Year

Colleagues —

With an opportunity-rich (some seized, some not) 2018 Legislative Session now behind us, I wanted to take this opportunity to review some of the substantial commitments the state budget makes to public education.

Here in Santa Fe, and inside the Roundhouse, the funding bill is referred to as HB2 (House Bill 2).  As we all know, deciding how you are going to spend your money is one of the best ways to determine priorities so HB2 is both a reflection of educational policy priorities and an overall financial appropriation for the State’s upcoming fiscal year (FY19, which is the 2018-2019 school year).

Your voice mattered this year—it was one of the first times in my career across multiple states that teacher-leaders, classroom teachers from across a state, and parents/families had a real voice inside a State Legislature. Historically, education policy and funding decisions are dominated by associations and interest groups—not necessarily by listening to all voices from all parts of a state.  Your voice was huge part of this process—and it was heard by our team at the PED, by the Executive branch, and by the Legislature.

It is also safe to say that in some areas, the Legislature made decisions in HB2 (now agreed to by both the House and the Senate and headed to the Governor’s desk) that could have real downsides for teachers, schools, and students.  It’s also safe to say that this funding bill also missed some opportunities to build upon and reinforce the areas of student academic progress and stakeholder engagement we’ve developed together over the last several years.

As the funding bill makes it way from the Legislative branch to the Executive branch, let’s review some highlights/lowlights in HB2 as of today:

As I see it, highlights from the 2018-2019 Public School Support package (HB2) include:

  • A teacher compensation increase, including significant raises in salaries for teachers (2.5%) and non-instructional school staff (2%), on top of an increase to the minimums for each licensure level, which would now be $36K/44K/54K for levels I, II, and III;
  • A small appropriation for Exemplary Teaching Awards, a groundbreaking effort to retain and reward some of the highest-performing teachers statewide – especially those that serve our most struggling schools and/or teach in the highest-need subject areas.  As I’ve shared with you, this strategy compliments the across-the-board increases above;
  • A sizable increase in funding for state Pre-K, which will allow the program to grow responsibly while maintaining the high standards of quality that have led to substantial outcomes for early learners.  This allocation will also result in several new Pre-K sites around the state that have demonstrated capacity and readiness to offer it for the first time;
  • An increase in K-3 Plus summer program funding that will allow for responsible expansion, while also including budgetary language incentivizing best practices that are leading to the most student growth in our schools;
  • An increase for both transportation and instructional materials funding (short of what the Executive branch proposed, but still meaningful);
  • More funding for professional development and teacher leadership opportunities for STEM teachers, and additional funding for the transition to NM STEM-Ready Standards;
  • Continuation of the key programs that have shown an outsized return on investment and student achievement.  We’ve seen several initiatives, which are reflected in the budget again this year, make a difference for kids in schools across the state–  Truancy and Dropout Prevention, Principals Pursuing Excellence, Teachers Pursuing Excellence, Reads to Lead, AP fee waivers, and many others;
  • Funding for a new Regional Educational Cooperative (REC) in San Juan County to assist districts in sharing resources and making support staff available to the entire region.

Alongside this progress, I believe there were several missed opportunities and areas of concern in HB2 as well, including:

  • The bill currently includes language that Exemplary Teaching Awards – while intended to be available to all – could be blocked at your district by your local teachers union;
  • The bill eliminates funding for Hard to Staff recruitment stipends for teachers.  Teacher Recruitment is major priority for the PED in 2018, even in a reduced funding environment;
  • The bill includes language that could substantially reduce funding for charter schools, early college high schools, vocational schools, alternative schools, and credit recovery programs.  We don’t believe these schools (and the students, teachers, and families who believe in them) should be targeted in this manner for a reduction in funding;
  • Though the PED requested $4.5 million in emergency supplemental funds – fund that can be used by districts who experience emergency situations such as natural disasters or man-made tragedies, or for districts experiencing declining enrollment or financial strain– the Legislature only appropriated $3 million in funding;
  • There is no increase to Dual Credit Instructional Materials, despite the PED’s request to double the funding;
  • The bill reflects a major cut in funding for professional development and training for Principals to provide meaningful evaluations and observations to teachers—the PED has consistently heard that this is a critical need area and will ensure that this vital training continues;
  • There is again no funding for Blended Learning (formerly IDEAL-NM) in HB2, which provides many students from rural/smaller schools a way to access courses that might not otherwise be available to them. The PED is committed to finding a way to provide course access to all students;
  • Lastly, this year’s budget bill include a major cut to Interventions and Support for Students, Struggling Schools, Parents, and Teachers – from $15 million last year to $4 million this year.  This comes on the heels of the PED announcing a $50 million support package for struggling schools as part of the state’s top-rated plan under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).  To be fair, the Legislative Finance Committee probably views this as a $4 million cut and not an $11 Million cut, but this is a line item that should have been increased (or at least fully supported) given the focus on innovation, parent and family engagement, and teacher leadership within it.  Instead, it’s been reduced.

My team will be reviewing HB2 in full next week once it’s delivered, and we would love to hear your thoughts on any/all of the above over the weekend.  Your voice matters—and we’ve seen repeatedly that democracy belongs to those who show up.  As classroom teachers and hard-working families, we know that you can’t camp out at the Roundhouse for 30 days or more, but we hope to represent your beliefs, your aspirations for your students, and our profession.

We stand with you—and offer our sincere thanks to all who contributed time and energy to support what is right for kids.  I am more optimistic than ever about the future for New Mexico’s students, with a renewed resolve to roll up my sleeves and continue to do the hard work to make New Mexico’s schools and students the fastest growing in the country.

Please be in-touch!

Christopher N. Ruszkowski
Secretary of Education
New Mexico Public Education Department

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