I am writing today to announce the closure of the New Mexico Independent. After three and a half years of operation in New Mexico, the board of the American Independent News Network, has decided to shift publication of its news…
Richardson proposes cutting education budget by $76 million
New Mexico’s public schools would see cuts of $76 million and increased class sizes under a budget proposal Gov. Bill Richardson outlined Monday.
The cuts amount to nearly 3 percent of the current schools budget and are part of a two-year spending plan Richardson unveiled Monday in anticipation of the legislative session, which begins Jan. 20.
His proposal would trim nearly $500 million from this year’s $6 billion total state budget, and another $450 million for the year that begins July 1.
The cuts to public schools Richardson laid out Monday would add up to $76 million in the year that starts July 1. Increased class sizes at K-8 and high school levels would be the biggest, most tangible effect, Richardson and his bugdet staff said.
At the elementary school level, class sizes would jump to 22 students, up from 18 students, said Richardson’s budget director, Katherine Miller. Meanwhile, at high schools, the state would eliminate the cap of 165 students per teacher and the cap on how many students can take a given course.
“This is temporary and it was something that was brought forward by the superintendents as a way for them to withstand budget cuts,” Miller said.
Added Richardson: “Our cuts are minimal. We don’t think it will affect teaching, curriculum.”
But education advocates see the cuts much differently.
“The biggest concern just listening to it … is the increase in class size,” Eduardo Holguin of the National Education Association New Mexico, said Monday.
For middle school and high school teachers, it means more papers and essays to grade, Holguin said. Similarly, at the grade school level, “You are going to have more kindergartners in classrooms, more first- and second-graders in classrooms, but the amount of mandates on these K-3 teachers will be the same.”
“What is that going to do the quality of education?” Holguin said.
The suggested cuts would last only a year, Miller and Richardson said, but they come at a particularly bad time for many school districts. The bad economic times mean many districts are struggling to make ends meet. Miller said the governor had factored the problems facing school districts’ into his proposed budget.
“There are some districts that would have difficulty no matter what cuts are implemented, like Rio Rancho and Gadsden, so we also recommend an increase to supplemental funding for those that would have shortfalls,” Miller said.
In all, the proposed cuts to public education would equal more than $100 million in the year starting July 1, but because supplemental funding for significantly cash-strapped school districts is proposed, the net proposed cuts equal $76 million.
Higher education also would also take a hit under the governor’s proposal, seeing a reduction of $40 million, resulting mostly in delays of building and equipment-replacement costs, Miller said.
The Legislature has its own budget, and state lawmakers and the governor’s staff will begin negotiating once the Legislature convenes Jan. 20 to find common ground.
The Legislative Finance Committee recommended a 1.5 percent cut from the public education’s current year appropriation, which makes up roughly half of the state’s $6 billion in spending.