‘‘What you do speaks so loudly I can’t hear what you say.” Words spoken by Ralph Waldo Emerson. Conversely, what you are not doing is positively deafening. Words appropriate to describe the 2015 legislative session as it relates to public education.
Gov. Susana Martinez and Legislature, by your inaction, you have proved once again your utter disdain for our public schools and the school-age children throughout our state.
It doesn’t matter what you say, it matters what you’ve done. You have demonstrated your disregard for every national study that states soundly that investments in public schools and early childhood education are the foundations of, and requirements for, lasting economic development. You’ve disrespected our dedicated educators by not even considering meeting their increased cost-of-living expenses. You boast that the schools already receive 44 percent of the total budget, as if this is an amount to be proud of, an amount that meets your constitutional obligation to “sufficiently fund public education.”
This percentage is significantly less than our schools have received in past decades as well as far less than states realizing significant progress in their schools due to their commitments to public education. In real dollars, our schools statewide are underfunded by more than $350 million each year and have been so since 2007.
In Santa Fe, you provided an additional $500,000 to meet the growing needs of all of our 14,000 students. That’s $35.71 per student. And with the same stroke of the pen, you shackle our district with $1.8 million in unfunded mandates. This is money that we’ll now have to take right out of the classroom. No raises for teachers or any student support staff; not even to cover the cost increase of their health insurance. Cuts statewide in transportation that won’t allow for the replacement of aging school buses. The list goes on.
As our finance team works tirelessly to fund these mandates and present to the Public Education Department a balanced budget, we are forced to make unconscionable choices, as are districts throughout New Mexico.
I implore the governor to reconvene the Legislature in special session with two goals and two goals only. Pass the capital outlay bill and properly fund our public schools. On the latter, crucial first steps must include funding the mandates and approving a statewide pay increase for all public school staff to average 4 percent in the individual districts, or at a bare minimum, an amount to cover the increases in health and risk management insurance increases. Do this because it’s the morally right thing to do for our children and for our state.