SANTA FE, N.M. — New Mexico provides only a tiny financial boost of less than 3 percent to school districts with high percentages of children who live in poverty or are learning English as a second language, an economist testified Thursday at a trial challenging the adequacy of state educational funding.
New Mexico is defending itself from allegations that the public education system is not meeting its responsibilities to Native American students, low-income students and those who speak English as a second language.
Public-finance economist Stephen Barro testified in state district court that New Mexico has an “at-risk” component to its per-student funding formula that shifts about $7.2 million each year from one set of districts to another, far less than a long list of other states.
The state currently provides about $2.5 billion a year to public schools under the overall formula.
Education officials under Republican Gov. Susana Martinez say the state’s educational spending is more than adequate, while new initiatives are helping struggling students and holding teachers and school leaders accountable. The trial is in its fourth week and expected to stretch into August.
An independent 2008 study commissioned by the state recommended a $335 million increase in support for public schools to reach adequate levels.
Barro performed an analysis showing the estimated funding gap had increased to at least $576 million for the 2014-15 school year, and as much as $660 million. The estimate factored in inflation rates.
Barro’s testimony focused on direct state funding that accounts for well over 90 percent of public school spending, leaving out federal funds that supplement school budgets in impoverished locations and areas where public lands limit local tax revenue.
The U.S. Census Bureau of recently ranked New Mexico in 34th place among states for per-student educational spending.
Educational challenges abound in the state with the nation’s second-highest poverty rate. The Annie E. Casey Foundation ranks the state 49th for child well-being.