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…
Money for schools caught in the crossfire
New Mexico’s financially strapped school districts could have received $15 million in “additional bonus money” thanks to a part of a state budget recently signed into law.
But the funds, which would have come from federal stimulus money, appear headed elsewhere after Gov. Bill Richardson decided last week to line-item veto the provision directing the money to education.
“The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act gave governors the authority to allocate the ARRA money, not legislatures, and the Supreme Court has ruled that the ability to allocate federal funds is beyond the Legislature’s appropriating power,” Nicole Gillespie, a spokesman for the governor’s budget office, said Wednesday in a statement, explaining the governor’s reason for vetoing the provision.
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act is the official name for the federal stimulus program.
News of Richardson’s decision to veto the educational funding has left advocates flummoxed at a time when local school districts already are confronting economic difficulties.
“For him to veto supports for public education … makes a bad situation more incomprehensible,” said Christine Trujillo of American Federation of Teachers.
Added Rep. Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, who is a frequent defender of funding for public education: “I am just disheartened in general over what the Legislature and the governor have done to education.”
The governor’s veto will contribute to school districts having “larger class sizes and we will not produce the kind of improvement the public is clamoring for,” Stewart said.
The $15 million in federal funds that would have gone to school districts, and another $5 million on top of that, will instead go to agencies across state government, Gillepsie said. The governor has committed to “using $20 million of his discretionary (federal) funds to balance the budget” after deciding last week to veto a food tax provision in legislation — an action that left a $68 million hole in next year’s state budget.
“State agencies have seen more than $700 million in budget cuts since FY09 and the Governor plans to use these funds where they are needed most to prevent additional reductions,” Gillepsie said in the statement.
It is unclear how much each school district would have received if the $15 million in federal dollars had been dispersed, but the extra money, however small, likely would have been welcome given the economic woes many school districts face.
Rio Rancho schools, meanwhile, likely will confront hard decisions for next year’s budget in addition to millions of dollars already trimmed over the past year, a spokesman said.
“We’re still waiting for the real numbers,” Kim Vesely, spokesperson for Rio Rancho Public Schools, said Wednesday of the state budget and its effects on local school district budgets.
With the governor’s veto, state educational funding would be cut by close to 2 percent, which could mean “$2 million out of the (Rio Rancho schools’) operational budget,” Vesely said.
Legislators had hoped that that the $15 million in federal dollars would soften a reduction in state education funding from 1.8 percent to a 1.2 percent reduction, state lawmakers said during this month’s special legislative session.
“After a while you run out of things to cut. It’s going to be tough for everyone around the state,” Vesely said.
The cuts to education contained in next year’s state budget come on top of past reductions, including the loss of $29 million school districts around the state had counted on but won’t see.
During a separate special legislative session in October the Legislature included a provision that would have paid school districts’ annual insurance premiums to the tune of $29 million. The thinking was that by the state covering that expense, local school districts could direct money normally earmarked for that to other areas.
The Legislature repealed that provision during this year’s regular session.
“The Governor has always fought to protect funding for schools, which is why he signed a bill in the 2009 special session that appropriated $29 million to pay schools’ property insurance premiums,” Gillespie said. “This session policy makers advocated repealing that appropriation as it was thought to create a disparity problem in which school districts would receive inequitable distributions.”
The provision – Section 12 — that would have given local school districts the $15 million in federal funding is tucked away on page 244 of the 247-page state budget. The vetoed language directed $25 million in federal stimulus money — $15 million to school districts and charter schools and $10 million to state agencies – to cushion the pain of budget cuts made to services and programs.