ROBERT NOTT
The new mexican

Two rural district senators are hoping to reverse a system that has long used the lion's share of a federal grant program to help finance urban schools.

Operating funding from grants initially goes to 25 school districts and five charter schools. But then, the state dismisses these needy neighborhoods, said Senator George Muñoz, D-Gallup, who described what is happening as a "game of hocus-pocus".

That's because the districts and schools selected to receive Impact Aid funding only get a quarter of the total annual grant, which exceeded $ 78 million last year.

The state redirects the rest of the money to other school districts using New Mexico's Student Funding Formula. Muñoz and Senator Clemente Sanchez, D-Grants, want to change that.

According to them, redistributing the grants to other school districts is not fair to schools in difficulty and undermines the intent of the program.

Muñoz and Sanchez spoke with trembling emotion of children in their neighborhoods who do not have running water at home, whose school buildings and sports fields are dilapidated and whose teachers live more than 100 km from the school. nearest community. These teachers sacrificed equipment and comfort goods to serve their students, Senators said.

They introduced Senate Bill 170, which would phase out federal grant money from the state funding formula. By the year 2022, all the money from the Impact Aid program would go to the districts and schools eligible for grants.

The Senate Committee on Education voted 5-2 on Friday to advance the bill, despite objections from some school principals. They say the change would reduce funding for other school districts by $ 50 to $ 60 million a year.

"Many districts of the state may be losing out on this," said Kirk Carpenter, superintendent of the Aztec public school district, a speech repeated by several of his colleagues.

But other school principals and representatives of some pueblos and tribes of the state retorted that Native American children needed federal grants to fill their gaps. Native Americans and other at-risk students often lag behind Anglophone students in New Mexico.

"These funds are needed in our districts," said Elston Yepa, second lieutenant governor of Jemez Pueblo. "With Native American students in schools, we are always left behind."

A woman who claimed to be an affair for the Laguna Pueblo School District also said the bill was essential to allow Native American children to climb, ensuring that their schools receive the necessary money.

"We deserve to receive 100% of these funds," she said.

It is unlikely that when the federal government created the Impact Aid program in 1950, no one expected it to strike 70 years later.

The initiative provides grants to school districts and charter schools located on federal lands. The other goals are to educate children living on federal property, children whose parents work on federal property and children whose parents are military.

The Muñoz and Sanchez bills provide for the allocation of $ 15 million as transitional funding for school funding, before transferring all the money over the next three years. But they do not offer credits to cover potential losses from other districts.

This makes the education authorities around the state mistrust this idea.

"We know you're at a turning point when you're trying to figure out the best way to deal with this," said Stan Rounds, head of the state's education leadership coalition. "We know it's a tough choice. … You can suppose that we are a divided house. "

Last year, New Mexico received operational funding of $ 78.2 million for the districts of the Impact Aid program. But the state government has transferred $ 58.7 million of this money into the regular funding formula, according to a recent state report.

Meaning. Bill Soules, D-Las Cruces, and Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, voted against the bill. They said that it was necessary to refine the measures to offset the negative impact on other school districts.

Soules suggested that proponents agree on an equal allocation of federal money for several years as a compromise.

Neither Muñoz nor Sanchez responded to this idea.

But they said that they would try to find the money needed to fill the gaps of the other districts and include it in an amendment to the Senate Finance Committee.

Muñoz also agreed to table a second bill that would have immediately redirected all the money from Impact Aid to the affected districts.