What does Intel in New Mexico have to do with the student loan debt crisis? Take it away, Sarah.
Some folks characterize New Mexico’s Land Grant Permanent Fund as a “rainy day fund.” Well, if that’s so, the rainy day is here and it’s pouring — that is, when it with respect to our lagging investments in early childhood education.
But we can chase away the stormy weather (as well as the dark and forbidding musical score). Just watch Sarah Kennedy’s latest video to learn the facts about Senate Joint Resolution 9 and House Joint Resolution 15. Both measures are being considered by the legislature NOW:
By Charlotte Chinana
“I am concerned that the percentages of files reviewed from district to district was not proportionally equal.”
“Our District’s Special Education units for 2011-2012, based on 2010-2011 official counts, decreased by 1.8%. The audit was initially described as an investigation of districts where funding units [had] increased. We are still not sure why our district was selected when our units went down.”
“We have never had the opportunity to refute the findings of the audit.”
“It makes me wonder if it was already predetermined that we would get an in depth audit.”
These are just some of the comments provided to the state’s Legislative Education Study Committee (LESC), from various district superintendents, regarding the audits conducted by the Public Education Department (PED), under the guidance of Secretary-designate Hanna Skandera.
Back in April of this year, Skandera called for an audit of 34 school districts across the state after her office reported a potential discrepancy related to enrollment data. What you might not recollect (or possibly had no idea it was even happening), was last week’s interim LESC meeting (May 25-27), in which the PED audit results were amongst the highly anticipated topics slated for discussion.
During the interim committee meeting, an analyst for the LESC, Craig Johnson, presented a staff report which highlighted a couple of equally interesting findings. Although supportive of the effort to ensure an accurate distribution of funds, according to Mr. Johnson’s presentation, the LESC staff had a number of concerns regarding the PED’s audit, including questions about:
- the PED’s selection of districts to be audited, which was based (almost exclusively) on an ‘apples-to-oranges’ comparison of data;
- selecting only two years worth of data for the audit, vs. a broader analysis of several years of worth of information;
- why it was necessary to expedite the audit timeline, and whether or not data accuracy could be assured (given the short amount of time self-allocated for the project).
The LESC staff’s sentiment was also echoed by the Legislative Finance Committee (LFC):
“In an April 19 letter, LFC Deputy Director Charles Sallee wrote, ‘The aggressive schedule for the data validation audits, the narrow scope, and limited audit procedures are not designed to fully assess drivers in new reported units, nor identify fraud or gaming of the formula.”
A Tale of Dueling Data Sets
The LESC staff report noted that, while the PED cited a “nearly 116% increase” in the “funding unit” data reported, using a comparison of the 2010-2011 school year, “80th day” reporting data – to the 2011-2012 school year, “80th day” reporting data, in actuality, the PED had compiled its information based on the comparison of the 2011-2012 school year “80th day” reporting data – to the 2010-2011 school year, “80th/120th day” average (or, “final funded numbers”).
According to the PED analysis, the unit increase looks quite substantial:
In a memo dated April 12, the PED noted an “enormous increase” in the number of “funding units” being reported by the state’s school districts, suggested that there had been a questionable increase in “[funding] unit growth,” despite there being only “1% increase in student enrollment.” This purported increase gave the PED cause for suspicion, and subsequently became a primary reason for conducting the audit.
According to the LESC analysis, the unit increase appears to less drastic:
The LESC staff report also noted that the audit methodology used by the PED, wasn’t a “sufficient way to clearly identify suspected instances of formula chasing” (or, “gaming” of the system). It was also observed that the audit procedures and tools used by the PED, focused on an assessment of special education compliance, as opposed to the intended objective of ensuring the accuracy of data reporting for funding purposes.
In a letter to the PED, dated April 19, the LESC staff outlined several concerns about the focus and expected outcomes of the audit. This included some “reservations about the department’s identification of school districts to be audited,” based on only two years worth of data. According to the letter, LESC staff had suggested that using trend data would give the PED “more useful and telling information about district practices and priorities,” than a two-year comparison:
The letter also highlighted a major issue with the April 27 deadline that Skandera’s department set for initial audit findings:
“…LESC staff are concerned not only that this deadline is much sooner than necessary but also that it provides too short a timeframe to examine data sufficiently and to report findings, let alone sufficient time for school districts to respond to the findings.”
According to the LESC staff report, this timeline effectively gave the PED audit team nine working days to conduct the various steps of the audit, AND report its preliminary findings. From the PED’s stand point, it was necessary to conduct the audit quickly, because more than 1/3 of the state’s school districts had been flagged for the audit (as well as 1/3 of the state’s charter schools), and there’s a statutory requirement for budget approval by July 1.
LESC Survey of Audited School Districts
Prior to the May 9th interim committee meeting, the LESC sent out an online survey to the superintendents of the 34 school districts audited, asking for feedback about the process. Of the 34 superintendents that received the survey, 30 responded by May 20th.
From the district response report:
“While some districts expressed support for the audit, survey responses, in general, demonstrated uncertainty or apprehension about the audit. Concerns about the audit expressed by districts in the survey include:
- media coverage;
- the nature of the selection process;
- the short time frame involved; and
- the response from PED.
Some districts noted that the audit procedures appear disconnected from one of the stated purposes of the audit, which was to identify ‘gaming of the system to receive additional funds.’ “
Through the combination of the online survey results and public testimony provided by several of the district superintendents who came to Santa Fe for the meeting, the LESC, LFC and PED were provided with a plethora of anecdotal feedback, regarding the practicality of using such a truncated timeline. While there was general consensus that timely and accurate reporting of data is a reasonable enough request, many districts expressed concerns ranging from the lack of entrance and exit conferences, to problems encountered while trying to provide documents (i.e. busy fax lines), to the lack of PED asking for a district response to the audit findings (related to any compliance issues their district was flagged for).
“Several districts also noted that the budget review process was affected by the audit, most commonly due to a delay in receiving budget documents from PED.
- ‘Significantly slowed our ability to complete budget.’
- ‘Administration delayed work on budget recommendations pending outcome of the special audit based on the possibility that projected membership numbers could be affected.’
- ‘We did not get our 910B5 until later than usual, and that made it very difficult to get our budget done in a timely fashion.’”
Where Do We Go From Here?
According to the next steps outlined by the PED, an additional in-depth audit will be conducted for nine districts deemed to have a combination of “major compliance issues” along with “severe data quality issues.” Hopefully, the issues raised by the LESC and LFC will be addressed, so that this next round of audits really does ensure that “information is being reported accurately and taxpayer dollars are protected.”
By Anthony Fleg, Native Health Initiative
The most important piece of health legislation in this year’s session might just be one without the words Medicaid, health insurance, or the names of any disease conditions in it.
Instead, it is a bill addressing institutional racism, the practices and policies within institutions (e.g schools, courts, hospitals, businesses) that lead to unequal access to resources based on skin color.
A week ago, the health professionals, educators, and community activists of the New Mexico Health Equity Working Group (NMHEWG) rallied for the bill at the first-ever “Anti Racism Day” at the legislature.
House Joint Memorial 32, sponsored by Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas (D-Albuquerque) and Sen. Tim Keller (D-Albuquerque) passed its first test, being approved by the House Labor Committee at 8pm on Thursday, February 17th.
By Anthony Fleg
As the room got quiet, the high-school student asked with confidence, “Does Albuquerque Public Schools have an anti-racism policy and if so, are you aware of it?”
Many of the professionals seated at the front, all running for the upcoming Albuquerque Public Schools (APS) school board election on February 1st, appeared unprepared for such a question.
This was the energy on the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. holiday when over one-hundred people gathered at University of New Mexico’s Law School for the “Teach-in and Candidates Forum” hosted by the Critical Race Theory (CRT) Working Group.
Youth from local high schools, UNM students, staff, and faculty and community members gathered to enhance their understanding of racism and CRT, and then to use the “teach-in” to inform a school board candidates forum.
The program will be broadcast on KUNM’s Youth radio this Sunday from 7-8pm.
Critics of New Mexico’s government spending often point to the state’s higher education system as Exhibit A in their argument that state government spends too much and does not spend wisely. New Mexico has too many colleges and universities offering too many similar programs – and closing some schools and consolidating or scaling back programs at others could save taxpayers millions, they say.
In fact, higher education is a frequent target for those who like to complain that government spends too much. Nationally, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty made big news the other day when he came up with the (widely-panned) idea of replacing brick and mortar classrooms and teachers with “iCollege” courses that could be downloaded any time on a portable device such as an iPhone or iPad.
While it might make for an entertaining hypothetical discussion for some, there are several good reasons why eliminating or scaling back New Mexico’s higher education network would be a very bad idea for New Mexicans.
Higher Education Is A Common Target
First, let’s look at why so many critics of government tend to focus on higher education spending.
In New Mexico, a quick check of U.S. Census numbers from 2007 show it’s likely because that’s where the number of employees are highest.
According to the numbers, New Mexico had 11.5 state and local higher education employees per 1,000 population – ranking the state 2nd in that category among all states.
So why such a high number compared to other states? There are several reasons New Mexico is so committed to higher education and is compelled to provide more access to it than other states.
New Mexico is still one of the lowest-ranked states in the nation in terms of child well-being – and it will only get worse if the state cuts funding for early childhood care and development, quality K-12 education, health care coverage and family supports.
That’s according to the 2009 New Mexico KIDS COUNT book released last week by New Mexico Voices for Children, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization advocating for policies to improve the health and well-being of New Mexico’s children, families and communities.
The New Mexico KIDS COUNT is a program of New Mexico Voices for Children and is made possible by grants from the Annie E. Casey Foundation.
Taking good care of the state’s children is important for kids, but it also has an effect on the state’s economic base and everyone’s quality of life, the report concluded.
That’s important information right now, as the state Legislature meets to decide how to close a gaping budget gap for the fiscal year 2011. Some legislators say the state should cut its way to solvency, while others say the state is losing millions in revenue though tax breaks and incentives for corporations.
According to the 2009 New Mexico KIDS COUNT book, New Mexico has the fourth highest rate of children without health insurance, more than one-quarter of its children live in poverty, and only four other states have a higher percentage of families who are hungry or “food insecure.”
Though quality childcare is critical for parents to work or train for jobs, state funding to help low-income families afford childcare has been severely cut back, the report said. Despite the fact that high-quality early childhood education programs provide the stimulation needed for healthy growth and brain development, New Mexico only allocates about 1.8 percent of its budget to support this.
“Research shows that good quality early childhood programs not only prepare children for success in school and life, but also give society a return on investment of up to $16 for each $1 spent,” said Gerry Bradley, Research Director for New Mexico Voices. “It’s one of the most cost-effective things we can do, since we’ll lower dropout rates, reduce crime, and improve employment rates over time.”
Christine Hollis, New Mexico Voices for Children’s KIDS COUNT Director, said, “Long-term studies show that high quality early childhood care and development; a first-rate K-12 educational system that graduates all students; quality health care with affordable health insurance; and effective family support systems provide social and economic benefits for all residents by reducing crime, dependence on welfare, and the other ills associated with poverty.”
Educators held an emotional press conference today to send a clear message to state legislators and the governor – if you cut education, you’re undercutting the future of New Mexico.
Teachers, parents and administrators from across the state gathered in the Roundhouse today in the advance of a special session designed to close the state’s $650 million budget shortfall.
The educators talked about results of a statewide poll done by Research & Polling on Oct. 12-15 that shows 81 percent of people say the state should balance the budget shortfall without cutting public school funding.
The results show that New Mexicans do not support education cuts and do support raising taxes to avoid them, said education advocates.
Other findings from the poll include:
- 88 percent of state residents feel the state should balance the budget deficit without cutting educators’ salaries
- 70 percent support increasing taxes on tobacco and alcohol to increase revenues
- 61 percent support closing tax loopholes for out-of-state corporations that don’t pay taxes on profits earned in New Mexico
- 55 percent support using more of the Permanent Fund to help fund schools
- 49 percent support rolling back 2003 tax cuts for wealthiest New Mexicans in order to increase funding for public schools
- 44 percent support increasing gross receipts taxes
- 43 percent are less likely to vote for lawmakers who cut school funding instead of raising certain taxes to help balance the budget
Rep. Mimi Stewart, an educator and Albuquerque Democrat, popped into the press conference to express her support.
“Thank you for spending your days mostly with kids,” Stewart told the packed room of educators.
Stewart, who was later joined by Senators Cisco McSorley (D-Abq) and Tim Keller (D-Abq), also gave educators an update on what her colleagues are thinking about education tax cuts.
“There are plenty of Democrats in the House Caucus who have no stomach for cutting education at all,” she said, to roars and applause.
The latest anti-tax screed from the Rio Grande Foundation’s Capitol Report New Mexico was built around a glaring and embarrassing error.
It came as a writer for the foundation’s Capitol Report blog lambasted the American Federation of Teachers for holding a rally on the Roundhouse steps Friday to protest possible cuts in K-12 education for the current fiscal year. The cuts could occur when legislators meet for a special session on the budget on Oct. 17.
The post took the 1,000 or so teachers who attended the protest to task for skipping out on their jobs:
For parents the events had an interesting calculus: My kid’s teacher took the day off to go to Santa Fe on a lovely fall day. My kid’s teacher taking the day off meant my kid had a substitute that day, which meant a wasted day for my kid. What is the priority here?
Hmm. There’s just one problem. Friday was APS Fall Break. No teachers skipped out on their jobs to protest education cuts – because school was out.
Apparently no one at the Rio Grande Foundation has kids in public school. Because how else on earth did the writer miss that? It’s kind of important, especially when your whole argument is based on that “fact.”
Come to think of it, that would explain an awful lot about the Rio Grande Foundation’s unabashed enthusiasm for slashing funding for the schools the rest of us send our kids to.
What an interesting glimpse of into the minds of people who are able to see public education as merely an abstraction!
On Sept. 22, Sen. John Arthur Smith (D-Deming) and Sen. Tim Jennings (D-Roswell) sent out an “Open Letter to the Citizens of New Mexico” warning school districts in New Mexico to prepare themselves for significant cuts to allow the state to balance the FY2010 budget.
The letter went out on Senate stationary – and attached was a chart showing 5 to 10 percent across-the-board cuts for every school district in the state.
“It scared the beejeezus out of everybody,” said Rep. Benjamin Rodefer, who was angered at the notion that Smith and Jennings would propose such a drastic statewide slash in education without consulting the rest of the Senate – much less the entire 112-member Legislature. “And it wasn’t really their place.”
So Rodefer wrote his own letter – to the superintendents of New Mexico’s 89 school districts.
In it, Rodefer pledged to “fight with every political breath I have to kill in the House of Representatives any public school cuts whatsoever, whether they be statewide or specific to your district.”
From his letter:
There is nothing more important than our children, their education and their future. Education is the greatest form of long-term economic development. I find it unconscionable that so many in the State Senate want to compromise New Mexico’s future by further challenging our already financially strained school districts, and the vital services and jobs they provide.
We cannot throw away the intellectual and economic future of our children and our state to cover up an inability in our legislature to do the difficult work of addressing our need for strengthened revenue streams and for finding specific statewide funding cuts that are viable, not directly damaging our citizens or communities, and that just make more common sense than crippling our schools as a short term fix.
Rodefer noted that the Legislature already cut school funding earlier this year – and studies have since shown that New Mexico is underfunding its schools by 15 percent.
Cutting funding to schools doesn’t just hurt students – it affects the whole community, he said.
“There are so many rural communities where the school is the main economic driver for the entire community. The school district employs people and purchases services and goods. And we’re not even talking yet about hurting our children and their education and their futures.”
Rodefer pledged to continue to consolidate votes in the House to oppose public education cuts.
Sadly, the state budget shortfall for this year alone is astronomical – up to $200 million, said Rodefer. Some cuts in education may have to be made, but they shouldn’t be across the board and they shouldn’t apply to every district, he said. And there should be a mighty effort made to keep cuts away from kids, teachers and classrooms.
“If the (shortfall) number keeps ballooning, we’re going to have to make some cuts. But I’m going to make damn sure it’s not 10 percent. If the superintendents come out and say they can cut three percent and still live with that, then I’ll go along with that.
But if (Smith and Jennings) keep pushing 10 percent, then I’m going to go with zero.”