State Reps. Luciano “Lucky” Varela and Jim Trujillo, both Santa Fe Democrats, are asking the state Attorney General’s office to weigh in on the constitutionality of a Santa Fe Public Schools program aimed at getting dropouts back into the school system.

Engage Santa Fe, a new school approved last month by the SFPS Board of Education, is intended to recruit local high school dropouts to obtain their high school diploma. The controversy comes with an SFPS contract that will task Florida-based Atlantic Education Partners, a private company, with the job of recruiting the students and staffing the school. 

Varela and Trujillo take issue with Engage Santa Fe’s funding coming from public coffers. As a part of the contract, SFPS is dedicating 90 percent of its state and federal money for dropouts to Atlantic Education Partners. Trujillo criticizes the move as “trying to privatize education.” 

“Giving 90 percent of the [public education] funding formula to private education is going too far,” Trujillo says. 

The lawmakers drafted a letter Tuesday asking Attorney General Gary King to opine on whether giving public money to Engage violates a section of the New Mexico Constitution that bars spending from the Land Grant Permanent Fund “for the support of any sectarian, denominational or private school, college or university.” 

Trujillo says he’s concerned that the move establishes a bad precedent in prompting private schools to start asking for the state money. But SFPS has stated that the contract doesn’t violate the law because the Engage school is still technically considered an SFPS program.