The Session: What’s in the Budget (so far) … and What’s Not

The big news before the 2024 Legislative Session opened was New Mexico’s $3+ billion surplus from oil and gas revenues. Your union, the Albuquerque Teachers Federation, has been hopeful that this money would be used for the most important goal our state should set for public education: to retain the great educators who work with our students every day.

Reviewing House Bill 2, the budget, which passed out of the House Appropriations and Finance Committee (HAFC) Monday morning, we are sorely disappointed. The budget is now in the Senate for review.

Let’s start with the bad news in the pre-K-12 budget as it stands…

We know that the first step to improving instruction is to fill our schools with strong instructors who will do the job. Sadly, the current budget dwells too much on funding mandates and not enough on funding humans. For example, our union has worked for the past several years to direct some of this budget surplus to ensure that public education employees do not live in poverty. Not much to ask. This year, HB 199 – that rare bill with a dozen bi-partisan sponsors – has no place in the current budget. This bill would guarantee a $15/hour minimum wage for hourly education workers and provide a $30,000 minimum salary for all classified employees such as secretaries/clerks, custodians, EAs, and bus drivers.

The Legislative Education Study Committee (LESC) proposed a 6% raise for all public school employees. The current budget proposes to provide all public school educators a 2% salary increase plus an average 2%. The “average” language gives local districts and unions the ability to address salary compression issues Unfortunately, 2% is not enough to solve those problems. 2 + 2 still equals 4, but it barely covers the 2023 inflation rate of 3.4%.

The biggest disappointment is that this budget includes no discretionary funding increase in the State Equalization Guarantee (SEG). Districts need the funds to set our own discretionary spending priorities. It is essential that we have money for increasing the paltry differentials educators receive for their dedication to co-curricular activities like band, drama, cheer, chorus, debate, and dozens of others. These programs keep kids in school by keeping them interested in school. But the differentials educators receive for the countless hours they invest make this work more of a labor of love than an honored effort that goes above and beyond and is essential in our effort to keep kids in school.

We are hopeful that the NM House of Representatives and Senate work to find room in the budget for people.

That being said, we are heartened by the continued financial support being proposed to attract new educators in the form of $10 million in scholarships for those pursuing social worker degrees at the BA or MA level, and $20 million for educator residencies (up from $15 million).

There are a couple of small line items aimed at retaining educators, but they will benefit only a minority of employees:

  • $5 million for the teacher loan repayment fund (up from $2.5M).
  • $500 thousand for National Board-Certified Teacher candidate scholarships (no change from last year).

Budget items are often shuffled and melded together, so it is difficult to determine whether programs are being cut, added, or their funding is being moved to a different line item.

There is a particularly confusing line item that calls for $49 million for teacher mentorship, CTE programs, and community school programs. That’s a lot to lump together! We are not sure how much each of these very specialized programs is set to receive. A related line calls for another $40 million for increased career technical education pilot programs in K-12 schools. Yet another proposes $8 million for additional funding for community school programs. We assume the portioning will be in the details.

The $55 million to be set aside for instructional materials is similarly confounding. This item seems to have subsumed the former line that funded instructional materials and technology. Likewise, universal free meals for students, with proposed funding of $21 million, claims funding from both the Fiscal Year ’24 and ’25 budgets.

We will continue to send out clarifications as we get them. Stay tuned for opportunities to advocate for important budget considerations as the session progresses.

The first step to taking action is to find your legislator here.

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