Panel recommends 1 percent raise for NM teachers

February 8, 2013 • State News

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Teachers and other public school workers could receive 1 percent salary increases next year under an education budget proposal recommended Friday by a House committee.

The measure approved by the House Education Committee calls for spending nearly $2.6 billion on public schools, the Public Education Department and other education programs in the fiscal year starting in July. That amounts to a $125 million, or 5 percent increase, in spending next year.

Schools traditionally account for the largest portion of the state budget.

The committee endorsed the budget proposal on a party-line vote, with Democrats supporting it and Republicans opposed.

Rep. Mimi Stewart, an Albuquerque Democrat and committee chairwoman, said the panel’s budget recommendations will restore some spending cuts made in the past [auth] several years when New Mexico faced a financial squeeze.

“I think it will help them, but funding is insufficient for public schools — seriously insufficient,” Stewart, a retired educator, said in an interview. “We have cut almost 12 percent from education over the last four years.”

Rep. Jimmie Hall, an Albuquerque Republican, said he objected that the committee shifted some money away from the control of the Public Education Department and GOP Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration.

Instead, the money will be distributed through the state’s school funding formula, which leaves decision-making with local school districts rather the department.

Included in those changes are $8.5 million to help children improve their reading skills, $2.5 million to aid low-performing schools, and $2.5 million for student testing.

The panel’s spending is nearly $22 million higher for education next year than what the Martinez administration has proposed to lawmakers.

The spending recommendations go to the House Appropriations and Finance Committee, which is responsible for preparing a nearly $6 billion budget package for all government programs, public schools and higher education.

The Education Committee’s budget will increase state aid for special education by $32 million next year and $30 million this year to help resolve a dispute with the federal government.

The state is trying to prevent losses of federal aid for special education.

At issue are requirements by the U.S. Department of Education for states not to cut their support for services for special education students. The standards are to prevent states from trimming their budgets and using federal money to offset the reductions.

New Mexico potentially ran afoul of those requirements when the economy soured and lawmakers cut state aid to public schools to help balance the budget in 2010 and 2011.

The Martinez administration is asking the federal government to waive its funding requirements because of the state’s past budget problems. If the waiver isn’t granted, the state may need to provide extra money for special education.

The committee also approved a bill to distribute special education money separately in the future rather than have it as part of the overall aid flowing through the traditional funding formula for school operations. Stewart said there will be no change in how much special education aid that districts receive.

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