State keeps program for struggling students

By Dillon Mullan
The New Mexican
Posted 5/27/20

After canceling a pair of programs designed to help struggling public school students catch up, the state Public Education Department is reinstating the cheaper of the …

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State keeps program for struggling students

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After canceling a pair of programs designed to help struggling public school students catch up, the state Public Education Department is reinstating the cheaper of the two.

In a letter Tuesday (May 26) to superintendents and charter schools, Public Education Department Secretary Ryan Stewart said applications for funding Extended Learning programs that begin Aug. 10 or later would be considered.

Stewart last week canceled both K-5 Plus, which adds 25 summer days of classroom time at participating elementary schools, and Extended Learning, citing the difficulty to adhere to public health requirements.

But on Tuesday (May 26), Stewart sent a letter to superintendents and charter school leaders saying that while K-5 Plus remains canceled, applications for 10-day Extended Learning programs that start Aug. 10 or later will be considered. Previously, districts had applied for Extended Learning programs that start in July. Those districts will be able to revise their application, Stewart said.

"This change will ensure that schools and districts are able to continue providing Extended Learning options in a safe manner and at a point in the year in which it is more likely that public health conditions will allow for robust in-person programming," Stewart wrote in the letter.

A department spokeswoman did not respond to calls for comment Tuesday evening, and Stewart's letter did not specify if schools or districts would be able to provide Extended Learning programs online next school year. The Legislature had allocated $119 million for K-5 Plus and $71 million for Extended Learning time for the 2020-21 school year. Most of the funding pays teachers for the extra hours.

Santa Fe Public Schools Superintendent Veronica García said the district has applied to offer the program to 3,240 students at 23 schools and urged the Legislature to reach into the Land Grant Permanent Fund and rework the tax code in order to fund Extended Learning and other programs.

"We know K-5 Plus and Extended Learning make a difference for students who start kindergarten behind. They're crucial for helping them catch up," García said. "But we also have to make sure our basic needs are met. My hope is that we look at Land Grant Permanent Fund distribution and restore some tax cuts in order to preserve education funding while balancing the budget."

Since Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham took office in January 2019, K-5 Plus and Extended Learning have been pushed as pillars of the Public Education Department's response to a landmark lawsuit in which a district judge ruled the state's schools were not providing sufficient services to English-learning, low-income, Native American and special-education students. Together, those groups make up around 80 percent of New Mexico's student population.

After the announcement of the cancellation of the programs last week, Amanda Aragon, executive director of NMKidsCan, a nonprofit dedicated to reforming the state's public schools, said she heard a fair amount of backlash to the decision.

"I don't usually hear from school leaders often on big policy issues," Aragon said. "But I did on these cuts. I saw a lot of school leaders stand up and say, 'This is not OK.' "

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