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Published in Print: January 24, 2007, as New Mexico Governor Pushing a Wide Array Of Ideas for Education

New Mexico Governor Pushing a Wide Array of Ideas for Education

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Gov. Bill Richardson is proposing to relieve overcrowding in schools, double the number of children in prekindergarten programs, and give a tax credit to highly qualified teachers who work in schools with the greatest needs, as ways to improve New Mexico’s education system.

In his Jan. 16 State of the State address, Gov. Richardson, a Democrat who was re-elected in November to a second term, said that expanding opportunity for every New Mexican means “investing for the long haul” in education.

In addition to pledging $20 million for charter schools, he is asking the state legislature for $283 million to repair schools and to alleviate overcrowding in schools. “Kids cannot learn in overcrowded classrooms,” he said.

In addition, the governor proposed that the state more than double the number of 4-year-olds attending its public prekindergarten programs, to 5,000 from 2,200.

In last year’s State of the State speech, Gov. Richardson also had asked the legislature to provide money to alleviate school overcrowding and to support the growth of prekindergarten.

As a result, the legislature provided $90 million during the 2007 fiscal year that school districts in high-growth areas could use to pay for construction upfront. But they had to pay the money back to the state, said Gilbert Gallegos, the deputy director of communications for Gov. Richardson. He said the Albuquerque school system, which has 89,000 students, used the state money to start building a new high school, and later obtained a tax increase from voters to pay for it.

Also over the last fiscal year, the state increased the number of children in prekindergarten to 2,200 from 1,500, Mr. Gallegos said. He added that the governor included $3 million in his budget request for fiscal 2008 to cover capital costs for prekindergarten programs and $7.5 million to pay for program costs.

Teacher Incentives

In last week’s address to the legislature, Gov. Richardson proposed a tax credit for highly qualified teachers who work in what he referred to a schools with “the greatest needs,” and he proposed forgiving educational loans for teachers who work in schools with large numbers of students from low-income families.

If the legislature approves the governor’s idea for a tax credit for teachers in high-need areas, it likely would cost the state $3.5 million in its first year, Mr. Gallegos said. He said the governor also is seeking to expand after-school programs.

While the idea for a tax credit is new, according to Mr. Gallegos, the other initiatives already are in place, and the governor is trying to obtain incremental increases in funding for them.

Lastly, Mr. Richardson proposed increasing the age at which a student can drop out of school to 18 from 17. That proposal, Mr. Gallegos said, is part of the governor’s plans to redesign high schools, an initiative that he only touched on in his State of the State address.

PHOTO: New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson greets state Sen. Mary Jane Garcia, a fellow Democrat, after giving his State of the State address at the opening of the legislative session in Santa Fe.
—Jeff Geissler/AP

Vol. 26, Issue 20, Page 28

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