A fight over whether or not to increase funding to help New Mexico school districts reach acceptable classroom size limits will likely be a top education discussion this session.
--- A meeting at the House Education Committee, with Senate Education Committee members in attendance, broached the topic on Monday, as have several legislators in previous days.
The Education Appropriation Act,
, includes $20 million to help districts get the number of students in each classroom below levels set by the state and no longer require waivers to exempt them from the law for that year.
Both the budgets put forth by Gov. Susana Martinez and the Legislative Finance Council do not include the funds, however. Instead, those plans send money largely toward helping large school districts such as Albuquerque Public Schools and Las Cruces Public Schools hire more teachers.
Public Education Department secretary-designate Hanna Skandera
From the Albuquerque Journal :
While reducing class sizes is advocated by many educators, PED's current priority is "to make a better environment for our teachers and school leaders" through professional development and support, Skandera told Journal editors and reporters.
"I'm not going to say a teacher is mistaken in desiring a smaller class size if she or he believes they are going to be more effective," she said.
"… But when we're looking at what's going to make the biggest difference for our kids, we are going to prioritize that, we have to."
Senate Majority Whip Tim Keller, D-Albuquerque, is a vocal supporter of funding to keep class sizes smaller. In
, Keller criticized the annual waivers to the class size statute.
"So think of the sort of duplicity on that," Keller said. "We pass a law on class sizes — and then we waive that law every year."
"There mostly are larger districts, Las Cruces, Albuquerque, Santa Fe, some issues in Farmington and elsewhere where these classes are out of control," Rep. Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, said while going through HB 3 line by line in the House Education Committee hearing.
Sen. Gay Kernan, R-Hobbs, says the schools in her district are having trouble recruiting teachers because of the high housing costs. Many areas in southeast New Mexico are seeing housing crunches because of the ongoing oil and gas boom in the area.
"If we're not going to do the waiver again, you can't be penalized for not being able to find the teachers," Kernan said.
Stewart said that they still would be able to apply for waivers for reasons like that.
"I do believe that we still have the ability to get those limited waivers," she said.
Rep. Christine Trujillo, D-Albuquerque, said it was important to keep class sizes down. She said no matter how skilled a teacher, and referred to professional development funding that was previously discussing, that if a class was too large the teacher would not be able to adequately help all of the students.
Rep. Dennis Roch, R-Logan, is a superintendent of the Logan Municipal School District and said a problem could be mismanagement at the district level of some other school districts.
"I try to make sure that we use our resources wisely and that we don't overload somebody fourth period and under-utilize them first period," Roch said. He was referring to a case where a high school teacher may have few students for one class period but have a crowded classroom for another.
With much of the focus on third-grade retention, merit pay for teachers and the always-controversial teacher evaluations, the funding for classroom sizes could be a dark horse issue with a large amount of debate in the 2014 session.