Education bill aims to lower class sizes

Education bill aims to lower class sizes

SANTA FE (KRQE) – Gov. Susana Martinez and the powerful Legislative Finance Committee have each laid out their vision for how to best fund public education next year, but now there’s a third idea out there.

House Education Committee chair Rep. Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, laid out HB 3 on Monday morning, a third approach.

In the bigger picture, Stewart wants to earmark a little more toward K-12 education than either the governor or the LFC. HB 3 calls for $2.72 billion in spending, $51 million more than what Gov. Martinez wants and $6 million more than the LFC.

The biggest difference inside of those numbers is that while Martinez wants $124 million in funding for Public Education Department-managed initiatives, HB 3 only gives PED $41 million to work with. Stewart says spending more in the state’s funding formula allows districts to have more control over their budgets and is a fairer way of distributing funding.

Hanna Skandera, New Mexico Education Secretary-designate, says giving funding directly to districts instead of targeting those dollars to specific needs opens the door to districts spending that money on bureaucracy.

Another big difference between the plans is on teacher raises. The governor wants to spend $6.5 million to hike the minimum pay for starting teachers by $3,000 and about $12 million on merit pay for top-rated principals and teachers.

On the other hand, HB 3 earmarks about $76 million for pay raises. Some $56 million of that would be used to give all school employees a 3 percent pay hike, $2.7 million to give educational assistants an extra 3 percent on top of that and $17 million to increase the salary floor for all teachers by $2,000. Merit pay funding is not in the bill.

Another big difference is on class sizes. HB 3 sets aside $20 million so that districts can comply with state law limiting how many students a teacher can teach, something that’s not in the governor’s or LFC’s recommendations.

Currently, state law mandates a maximum average class size of 22 kids to a class in grades 1-3 and 24 kids to a class in grades 4-6. Most middle school and high school teachers can only be given a maximum of 160 students between all the classes they teach. That law has been waived the last five years to give districts more flexibility during lean budget years.

Stewart says the funding is there to bring class sizes back down and the time is right to do it. Skandera says while the idea isn’t necessarily the top priority for the administration, the governor would be open to it as long as there’s a better way of guaranteeing money that’s earmarked for lowering class sizes is actually spent for that purpose.

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