Admin costs a reason for failing schools?

A recent policy report asks a question that is on the minds of many New Mexicans. Why have student outcomes in our state remained stuck at the bottom of the nation even as our education spending has increased?

Citing trends over the last 20 years, the Think New Mexico report looks at graduation rates, students’ reading and math skills, and the availability of early childhood programs, all of which rank low in national standings. By contrast, spending per student is above average and at the very top when it comes to its percentage of the state budget.

“Part of the reason,” the report says, “is that only about 57.2% of New Mexico’s education budget is dedicated to instruction,” while the rest goes to a multitude of administrative layers and sometimes questionable programs such as lobbying and public relations at the district level.

The report analyzes trends within the state and across the nation, and makes several recommendations that its authors hope will be considered in this year’s State Legislature session.

Under the broad objective of reallocating $100 million for classrooms, it says the Education Department should:

  • Reduce the state’s reporting requirements to the level of states with similar demographics.
  • Reduce administrative expenses to the national average.

Legislative steps needed to achieve these goals would be to:

  • Establish minimum budget percentages that each school district and charter school must spend in the classroom.
  • Use a sliding scale to set the minimum percentages, based on the size of the district or charter, and phase the minimums in over several years.
  • Define “classroom spending” to include instruction, instructional support, student support and salaries/benefits for principals.