by Meredith Machen
The President of the New Mexico League of Women Voters calls for a moratorium on new charter schools. She cites the Center for Public Education: “46 State Education Agencies are cutting back on charter school funding because of their fiscal difficulties, the challenges of delivering adequate special education services, and the lack of staff available to provide proper oversight. We hope that NM will follow suit and impose a moratorium until the data demonstrates the need.”
Meredith supports her position with data.
These relate in a similar way to Florida’s failure to adequately support public education. Read her comments on budgetary sufficiency and equity, achievement results, and public accountability.
Comments to the Legislative Finance Committee on NM Public Education Funding
Senator Smith and Committee Members, I’m Dr. Meredith Machen, President of the League of Women Voters of New Mexico. The League has been involved in education policy since its inception. We worked on the original State Equalization Guarantee as well as formula adjustments, career-technical education, and numerous other matters.
We are recommending a moratorium on charter school authorization in order to identify how to improve achievement and to ensure funding equity for all public school students.
NM’s Constitution requires a “uniform system of free public schools sufficient for the education of, and open to all of the children of school age in the state.” Having an equitable and adequate public education system is of utmost importance to our state’s economy and quality of life. K12 education funding currently constitutes 44% of the state’s budget, and this percentage will increase if decision-makers do not make some changes. We call upon the PED, LFC, LESC and public officials to make data-driven decisions.
Budgetary Sufficiency and Equity
NM’s State Equalization Guarantee was once a model for other states, but that guarantee has been violated. Between 2008 and 2015, almost half of the funding formula increases have gone to the charter schools, which serve only 6.6% of the students. NM is in jeopardy of another major lawsuit for underfunding the education of 93.4% of the students. It is fiscally irresponsible for the state to authorize additional charter schools and to allocate a disproportionate share of both formula funding and below-the-line discretionary funding to charter schools. Let the data determine if we have the need and the financial wherewithal to pay for a parallel system to the traditional public schools. It is very costly to pay for separate management systems at our 100 charter schools, which operate autonomously. There are economies of scale. With current and upcoming school enrollments declining along with NM’s population at large, we think adding more schools is unaffordable and unsustainable.
The majority of charter schools perform no better than traditional public schools. Achievement results are mixed, but the most successful charters have small class sizes and other factors that traditional public schools could also adopt if given the funding. More resources bring better outcomes.
Districts lack sufficient funds to adequately serve English language learners, minority students, and students with disabilities. To improve achievement of the majority of our students, more funding is needed for instruction in English and math whether through increasing the number of instructional hours or through supplemental after-school and summer programs.
We must ensure that all public school students, regardless of race or economic class or ability, with or without involved parents, have access to a high-quality education that prepares them for the rigors of college and the workplace. A primary reason NM is 49th in the nation in on-time college completion is that more than half high school graduates need a year or more of remedial instruction in order to succeed in college-level courses. NM’s education dollars should be used for strategies to improve student achievement across the board, not for duplicating management systems. Below-the-line funding should be used to bring innovations and expertise to district schools, which are attended by the vast majority of the students. Our limited dollars would be better spent on more magnet schools and more career academies within district schools.
In September, the US Department of Education issued an advisory warning letter to the states regarding charter school profiteering and potential conflicts of interest. In PED’s FY13 audit, there were several findings that indicated conflict of interest violations, yet the offending schools have not had their charters revoked. We have been asking for many months to see PED’s FY14 audit. It was recently turned in to the state auditor (almost a year late), but it is still unavailable for public scrutiny. How have these findings been handled?
Like other public schools, charter schools should disclose salaries and benefit packages as well as the identity of the owner of any property and buildings that are supported by Public School Facility Lease funds. NM’s taxpayers and families need confidence that all schools operate according to high standards of organizational governance required of elected boards as provided by the NM School Boards Association.
It is also hard to justify the support for private corporations providing online instruction: K12 Inc., which runs the NM Virtual Academy and Pearson, which runs the NM Connections Academy. The attorney general issued the opinion that NMVA was unconstitutional, yet it continues its operations unfazed. With student-teacher ratios many times beyond what is allowed in traditional public schools, why are these for-profit online schools receiving the same formula funding as brick-and-mortar schools that have to supply libraries, athletic fields, counselors, maintenance, security, and so forth? Online schools are not serving students with disabilities or English-language learners well. Many of these students are pushed out or drop out. Success rates with online instruction are low except among very motivated, high functioning, self-directed learners. The public revolt against for-profit online charters is building across the country. It’s only a matter of time before it happens here.
According to the Center for Public Education, 46 State Education Agencies are cutting back on charter school funding because of their fiscal difficulties, the challenges of delivering adequate special education services, and the lack of staff available to provide proper oversight. We hope that NM will follow suit and impose a moratorium until the data demonstrates the need.
Thank you very much.
Contact Information: Dr. Meredith Machen, (505) 577-6337, firstname.lastname@example.org
League of Women Voters of New Mexico
RE: PED Budget Presentation, LFC, 12/10/15