NM Capital Outlay Reform and Schools: Let’s Play “What If?”

Ever year, the New Mexico Public Education Department (PED) puts together and publishes analysis of proposed legislation having anything to do with education in the state. In recent years, these analyses have been available online and provide something of a glimpse not only into what PED itself thinks of legislative ideas, but insight into its policy priorities. For those seeking a deeper look into the oft-oblique, at least publicly, thinking of PED Secretary Hanna Skandera, these analyses are important.

It is also important to see which pieces of legislation PED doesn’t analyze.

This year, PED chimes in on everything from “Student Athlete Brain Injury Appeals” (HB 180) to “Rename ‘Breakfast After the Bell’ Program” (SB 144). Conspicuous in its absence, however, is a bill which would very possibly have greater ramifications on New Mexico schools than any other piece of legislation this session: HB 307, the “Capital Outlay Reform Act.”

As noted by Sandra Fish at New Mexico In Depth, HB 307 is a widely supported (e.g., by both business and labor unions) attempt to do something about the almost quaint, perhaps inarguably antiquated, yet vitalt means by which public entities around New Mexico get funding for projects. For K-12 schools, capital outlay is often the best and/or only way to get funding for infrastructure upgrades (e.g., security cameras) and other items that don’t find funding through other means, especially in tough budget times.

The “system” for requesting and receipt of capital outlay request has grown somewhat in sophistication over the years. This author can report that, in the mid-90s, at least a few APS schools sought rather sizable funds via a fax machine, phone call and a bottle of good scotch to a thirsty legislator. While 2016 methods may or may not currently reflect such “old school” lobbying tactics, the capital outlay process is certainly still fraught with impediments and probable unfairness from start to finish. Perhaps any governmental funding system that still has a handy-dandy online two-page request for money isn’t doing this right.

As reported by Ms. Fish at In Depth, HB 307 is popular with many, but is struggling with legislators, who see it as a threat to direct control over projects in their district. One also wonders how reforming capital outlay would affect school projects around the state, but PED doesn’t seem to want to theoretically wade in those waters, even though it frequently does similar speculation via other bill analyses.

So let’s take a short dip and do our own wading, shall we? While the new NM Legislature website is quite nice, and includes live streaming, finding capital outlay requests isn’t very easy. So while you get into your swim trunks, we’ll find the page for you here (as of 2.9.16).

To keep things bi-partisan, let’s take a look at both a Republican and Democratic legislator. For the Republicans, here’s Representative Monica Youngblood’s request. For the Democrats, let’s keep it Burque and look at Senator Mimi Stewart’s request.

What do we see? Focusing on K-12 school requests, we quickly notice what is true on both sides of the aisle: charter schools. Both Rep. Youngblood (six school requests totaling $927,000) and Sen. Stewart (four requests totaling $395,000) devote very significant funding to charter schools in their district. Notably, while Stewart includes seven APS schools (totaling $760,000), Rep. Youngblood doesn’t have a single APS school request.

Here’s where a look at Rep. Youngblood’s district might help us analyze what the current system means:

youngblood

Yes, it would appear there are two APS schools in Youngblood’s district, Chamiza and Petroglyph ES. It’s also perhaps worth noting there’s a very large golf course dominating the center of the Representative’s district. More germane is that Rep. Youngblood’s many charter school requests include ZERO such schools within her district. In fact, a quick Google Map search indicates there aren’t any charter schools within Rep. Youngblood’s district.

So what?

What has our very short wade into capital outlay waters meant, particularly when it comes to what outlay reform might mean to schools? While PED is keeping its thoughts to itself, it’s not too far-fetched to speculate that charter school funding might receive quite a bit more oversight than it currently does. It’s also the case that there could be more equalization in outlay funding regarding public schools, instead of the current system in which APS schools, for instance, fair unequally, depending on the fall of a legislative district line.

The overarching question is whether HB 307, if it does become law (and that seems unlikely at this juncture), would significantly change the political (i.e., money) dynamic between PED, legislators, and NM districts/schools.  Looking/wading from almost any angle, it would be fun to find out.

 

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