Budget & Finance

New Mexico School Finance Ruling Throws Wrench Into Gubernatorial Race

By Daarel Burnette II — July 23, 2018 1 min read
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A lower court ruling in New Mexico that deemed the state’s school finance system unconstitutional has pitted the many candidates running for state office against each other over how to provide more money to its schools.

New Mexico is one of many states where school funding has emerged as one of the most divisive issues in this year’s midterm elections.

A state district court judge ruled late last week that the state pays its teachers too little, provides its schools out-of-date textbooks and technology and, through its unique teacher evaluation system, removes incentives for its best-performing teachers to work at its worst-performing schools. That amounts to a system in which the state’s public schools don’t do enough to provide its students a constitutionally adequate education, the court ruled.

The state has until April of next year to either appeal the ruling or comply with the court’s orders to overhaul its school funding model.

Candidates for the state’s heavily contested governor’s seat which is being vacated by outgoing Republican Gov. Susana Martinez, quickly pounced on the ruling. At issue is whether lawmakers should wait for revenue to come in from increased oil prices, pull more money from the state’s savings account, tax its citizens, or fight the ruling to keep school funding as is.

Republican gubernatorial nominee Steve Pearce didn’t say whether he would appeal the ruling.

“We can and must get more resources to our teachers and classrooms so teachers can teach,” Pearce told the Santa Fe New Mexican. “We must fundamentally reform the bureacucracy so that it helps the very people in need, as the judge says.”

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Michelle Lujan Grisham used the ruling as an opportunity to attack the Republicans’ school funding and accountability strategies.

“There is not enough funding in the classrooms,” she told the New Mexican. “The better thing to do is get everyone to the table and make proposals to the court that work for the children.”

A school finance supreme court ruling in Kansas has split that state’s GOP party between candidates who want to bend to the court’s demands that the state pay its schools $300 million and candidates who want to outright reject its many rulings.

A version of this news article first appeared in the State EdWatch blog.