Near the bottom in education results, but NM is 25th in per student spending

By Rob Nikolewski on June 28, 2013
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New Mexico’s public school consistently rank at or near the bottom in national surveys, often leading to calls for more spending.

But in the most recent , New Mexico ranks 25th in the nation — smack dab in the middle — in state expenditures per student.

“It doesn’t really surprise me,” said state Sen. , R-Hobbs, a retired teacher. “It’s really difficult to compare states, such as New Mexico and, say, Massachusetts … But the idea that we can fix education by simply increasing money is not the way to do it.”

SPENDING VS. RESULTS: New Mexico consistently finishes in the bottom tier in public education but a study from the NEA puts the state 25th in how much it spends per student.

“When you look at per pupil spending you also have to look at the well-being of the child in each state, too,” said Dr. Veronica C. Garcia, executive director of .

Monday, a national study from the nonprofit landed New Mexico among states when it came to the foundation’s overall measurements of child well-being.

Pointing to the 50th-place finish, some advocates insisted taxpayers aren’t spending enough on public education in New Mexico. In , New Mexico consistently ranks in the lower echelon of scholastic outcomes.

That prompted to look at the most recent numbers from the NEA study, released at the end of 2012.

Not only the largest teachers union in the country but of any industry in the U.S., the NEA releases an annual for public school statistics in the 50 states plus the District of Columbia.

The analysis showed that New Mexico spent $10,203 per student, placing it 25th in the nation. The figure was slightly above the median for all states ($10,001) and slightly below the U.S. average ($10,834).

New Mexico spent more per student than neighboring states Colorado ($10,0001, finishing 26th), Texas ($8,498, 44th), Utah ($6,849, 50th) and Arizona ($6,683, 51st).

But Garcia pointed to New Mexico’s last-place finish in the Casey Foundation study: “You can’t just look at expenditures without the context of each state … (New Mexico’s neighboring states) can get by on a lesser investment. For New Mexico, it makes it more expensive because you have to take into account greater poverty.”

“We’ve seen a shift, and I have seen it, unfortunately, that there’s a general feeling that if there’s a problem, it’s the teachers’ fault or the school’s fault,” Kernan said. “Money is important. We have to pay our teachers and take care of the basic needs of schools .. but the key part of it has to be parents.”

The past few legislative sessions has included debate about increasing the amount of money aimed at early childhood education.

Some $31 million in new money over the coming year has been earmarked to expand programs such as preschool classes and in-home visiting for new parents. That’s a 44 percent increase in the past two years. All told, childhood education programs will receive about $197 million for fiscal 2014, which starts Monday, July 1.

But some critics say it’s not nearly enough.

“It’s still very little, when we see the need,” told the earlier this year. Sanchez thinks the state should spend $275 million a year on early childhood services — which would amount to $78 million more per year.

There’s also been to dip deeper into the state’s to spend more on public education. As of the end of May, the permanent fund had assets worth nearly $56 million.

The fund already has a , and opponents — including the — say going deeper would threaten the heart of the fund, which provides the state with a steady and reliable stream of income.

Garcia said she’s in favor of taking more from the permanent fund with the caveat that a trigger mechanism is in place to preserve its financial well-being. “We should allow the public to take part in this very important public policy debate,” she said.

Kernan is against dipping deeper into the permanent fund but says she’s “a firm believer in early-childhood” programs.

“If new money is available, I certainly don’t object to expanding pre-K, provided you can sustain the quality of the teachers in first, second and third grades,” Kernan said. “We’ve learned that if you don’t sustain those good teachers, you lose a lot of what you’ve gained.”


Here’s the NEA’s table breaking down per pupil expenditures by state:


Contact Rob Nikolewski at and follow him on Twitter @robnikolewski

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One Comment For This Post So Far

  1. gregmax
    11:03 am on July 18th, 2013

    Rob. I appreciated your comments on NM in Focus. It doesn’t take an expert to understand that parents and the environment children live in are crucial to academic proficiency. In fact, this is the logical explanation for the common distribution of academic success in this country. If my child can excel as So-and-so school, but 35% of the other children can’t, then it doesn’t make sense that it is somehow the problem of the institution. But the education money hucksters will never see or admit that institutions can only reach a certain level if children are not supported pre-birth by parents.
    I appreciate you putting that point forth regularly. Alas, it is probably not going to change the cognitive dissonance of most people in policy making positions.

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