Budget bill stalls on education spending disagreements

By Christina Calloway
PNT senior writer

Local school district superintendents say any state designated money for education should be spent the way the district sees fit.

That’s the side House Democrats have also taken this legislative session in regard to education spending, which stalled a proposed deal on Friday to pass the state’s proposed $6.2 billion budget bill.

While Gov. Susana Martinez and Education Secretary-designate Hanna Skandera want $25 million be earmarked for programs to meet their education initiatives, also known as below-the-line spending. House Democrats say school districts are better off having control of the money designated to them.

“I think the above-the-line spending is better for us,” said Portales schools Superintendent Johnnie Cain. “We can use it for what we think we need it for. We can put it in the places we need it.”

Grady schools Superintendent Ted Trice said to have all the money given to districts be above-the-line is wishful thinking.

“We’re never going to get that local control back but I think majority of (education funds) needs to be above-the-line,” Trice said.

Rep. Dennis Roch, R-Logan, voted against the proposed budget because he supports Martinez’s and Skandera’s goals.

“We’re about 25th right now in the country on per student spending; were certainly not 25th in results,” said Roch, who’s district encompasses Roosevelt, Curry and Quay counties. “The statewide graduation rate is 70 percent now, that means three in 10 students won’t graduate…What we want to do is to try to move the needle.”

Roch said a few of the education initiatives Martinez and Skandera are pushing include early reading intervention.

Roch said Martinez requested about $100 million to be spent on those initiatives in below-the-line spending but negotiated with lawmakers and brought that figure down to $25 million.

“That’s a big compromise,” Roch said. “So legislative leadership said they’d give them $10 million. They kind of low-balled the offer. It didn’t reflect the offer the governor made.”

Cain said he believes his district staff can still follow the mandates by the governor with the funds being above-the-line.

“Put the money above the line and we’ll work to meet those goals,” Cain said.

He added he doesn’t mind the district being held accountable to meet the governor’s initiatives but he doesn’t believe uniformity across the state is the best way to go about it.

“Work with us, don’t go after everybody in the state because some aren’t doing what they’re supposed to,” Cain said.

Trice echoed Cain’s sentiments, saying he has no problem with Martinez’s initiatives.

“I don’t think it’s bad to have a little bit but not all of it below the line,” Trice said.

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