Sponsoring Structured Literacy

Record PED budget brings increased funding for program to improve reading

A few days before the legislative session drew to a close on Feb. 15, lawmakers sent to the governor’s desk a record $10.2 billion state budget in House Bill 2. For New Mexico students, the nearly $5.3 billion earmarked for K-12 education could mean a chance at reading improvement.

The measure, which increases money heading to the Public Education Department by more than 9% over last year, awaits Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s signature. Even as education leaders say the additional investments could improve outcomes for students, some language pertaining to schools might end up under the governor’s veto pen.

The majority of the funding—approximately $4.9 billion—would go directly to New Mexico’s public schools through the state’s funding formula, with the remaining $361 million controlled directly by the PED.

Public Education Department Assistant Secretary of Policy, Research and Technology Greg Frostad tells SFR the department considers a push for structured literacy one of its budget highlights, with nearly $60 million directly aimed at “the science of reading.”

Under HB2, the department would use $30 million to provide direct structured literacy services to students, as well as $19 million to train elementary and middle school teachers in the strategy.

“This new investment will really allow us to leap forward and provide the sorts of services needed to really make the difference in reading that we want to see,” Frostad says. “We really anticipate that once elementary reading starts to improve, we’ll see improvement in math, science and other areas as well with that foundation in reading.”

The structured literacy approach teaches students using the five pillars of the science of reading: phonemic awareness (auditory and oral relationships), phonics (relationships between letters and sound), vocabulary, fluency and comprehension. It replaces a previous method known as “balanced literacy,” in which students learn introductory literacy skills that combine text with context and imagery. Organizations across the state, such as NMKidsCan, have touted structured literacy as a way to improve the state’s low reading proficiency rates.

Pojoaque Valley School District has already tracked high levels of improvement in reading proficiency in the past year thanks to the method, earning a shout-out in the governor’s “State of the State” address at the beginning of the session. English Language Arts proficiency the district increased by 26% just a few years after officials implemented structured literacy training for teachers.

For the past three years, Pojoaque Valley School District Superintendent Sondra Adams says, the district has contracted teachers from The May Center for Learning in Santa Fe to train K-3 teachers and plans to train other teachers soon.

“We still have a long way to go, because we don’t have enough students proficient,” Adams says. “But we’re heading in the right direction, really making sure our teachers know how to teach reading, how to diagnose deficiencies in a student’s reading ability and how to correct those.”

Structured literacy funding managed by PED, Frostad says, would be used to provide instructional services to students, and includes a free, six-week structured literacy program as a supplement to summer programs that would begin this June if the governor signs HB2.

“We’re planning for something approximating four students per instructor of structured literacy. The plan is for it to be open to all, but we definitely want to target those students most in need of literacy interventions,” Frostad says. “The specifics of the program, we are still ironing out.”

Mary Parr Sánchez, president of the National Education Association in New Mexico, says she hopes to see more support for the teachers undergoing the training.

“Basically, they’re all becoming reading specialists, which is a good thing, but it’s been a heavy lift after the pandemic. I hope that we see results with structured literacy and we look forward to moving our kids forward,” Parr Sánchez says.

However, Parr Sánchez says the NEA’s biggest concern centers on language in HB2 prohibiting the public education department from using appropriations to “implement or enforce” a proposed rule calling for a minimum requirement of 180 instructional days per school year. Late last year, PED Secretary Arsenio Romero proposed the rule, causing backlash from teachers and the union.

“We’re waiting to see if the governor is going to sign HB2, or if she is going to line-item veto that information—that’s super important to the districts,” Parr Sánchez says. “That greatly affects employee contracts, kids and families.”

According to Michael Coleman, a spokesman for the governor, Lujan Grisham will sign HB2 on March 6. Coleman would not comment on whether she plans to strike that language, but the governor also said during the “State of the State” address she favors the proposed rule.

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