Maximize Dollars to the Classroom

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Issue Summary

New Mexico’s public schools present a riddle: why have our student outcomes remained stuck at the bottom of the nation even as our education spending has increased? Between 1993 and 2014 (the most recent year for which data is available), New Mexico rose from 44th in the nation to 36th in the nation for total annual spending per student, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. In 2017, the National Education Association, which represents teachers, ranked New Mexico second in the nation for spending on education per every $1,000 of personal income. Yet our graduation rates and math and reading scores continue to lag behind states that spend less per student.

One part of the reason is that only about 57.2% of New Mexico’s education budget is dedicated to instruction. While there is little to no correlation between total spending and student outcomes, there is a much stronger connection between the proportion of a state’s education budget dedicated to instruction and student performance in that state.

More evidence for this connection can be found in New Mexico’s highest performing school districts. Along with achieving high graduation rates and math and reading scores, these districts tend to spend a larger percentage of their budgets on classroom expenses, such as teachers, coaches, counselors, nurses, educational assistants, and school supplies, rather than on administrative expenses in the central district office.

Since about 90% of New Mexico’s operational education budget consists of state taxpayer dollars, the legislature and governor have the responsibility to ensure that the money is spent as effectively as possible.

Based on the examples of the state’s most successful districts, in 2017 Think New Mexico launched a new initiative recommending that the legislature and governor establish minimum percentages of each school district’s (and charter school’s) budget that must be spent in the classroom, rather than on administrative expenses. The minimum percentages would vary based on district size, as larger districts with better economies of scale should be able to spend a higher proportion of their budgets in the classroom. In addition, “classroom spending” would be broadly defined to include not only instruction, instructional support (e.g., librarians), and student support (e.g., counselors, nurses), but also principals, since the research suggests that principals can have a powerful positive impact on student achievement.

Think New Mexico has identified specific strategies for achieving administrative savings that add up to over $100 million, including reducing unnecessary reporting burdens, cutting specific administrative costs, eliminating spending on public relations and hired lobbyists, and right-sizing underperforming districts.

If New Mexico were able to shift just 4% of its $2.7 billion from administration to the classroom, it would mean an increase of over $100 million for proven education reforms, from K-3 Plus to prekindergarten to better pay for principals and teachers.

Think New Mexico will be advocating for these reforms during the 2018 legislative session. Sign up for our email alerts and follow our Facebook and Twitter pages to stay informed and get involved on this issue!

News Coverage

newspapericon-smallRead an Albuquerque Journal editorial supporting Think New Mexico’s new initiative to reallocate dollars from school district administration to the classroom • October 11, 2017

newspapericon-smallRead a Santa Fe New Mexican editorial on Think New Mexico’s new initiative to maximize dollars to the classroom • October 11, 2017

newspapericon-smallRead an Albuquerque Journal article describing Think New Mexico’s new initiative to reallocate dollars from school district administration to the classroom • October 8, 2017

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