During this year’s legislative session, New Mexico lawmakers are considering major investments in education reforms designed to improve student outcomes, including increasing learning time, reducing class size, enhancing teacher training and raising pay and benefits for teachers, principals and other educational staff.

However, unless we also reform the way school districts allocate their budgets, many of those additional dollars might never reach teachers and students in the classrooms.

According to a 2020 analysis by the Legislative Finance Committee (LFC), the budget arm of the Legislature, between 2007 and 2019, school district central and general administration grew by 55%, while spending on instruction and student support grew by just 19-20%. In other words, spending on school district administration grew nearly three times faster than classroom spending.

Classroom spending includes instruction, educational supplies and student support: the teachers, principals, educational assistants, librarians, counselors, social workers, school psychologists, nurses and coaches who impact the lives of students every day. Every dollar going to administrators in the school district’s central office isn’t going to them.

Teachers have spoken out about how they need more people in schools to support students: reading coaches, tutors, intensive interventionists and other frontline staff who can help students make up the learning loss many experienced during the last several years. Those are the sort of investments in classroom spending that can move the needle for student outcomes.

Senate Bill 438 proposes to deliver more of the state’s budget to high-value investments at the school sites rather than to administrative overhead. The bill is sponsored by Senators George Muñoz (D-Gallup), chair of Senate Finance; Crystal Diamond (R-Elephant Butte), a former school board member who also serves on the Senate Finance Committee; Leo Jaramillo (D-Española); and Siah Correra Hemphill (D-Silver City), a school psychologist. It was drafted by Think New Mexico based on recommendations in our 2022 report, A Roadmap for Rethinking Public Education in New Mexico.

Senate Bill 438 proposes to limit the growth of school district central administrative spending to no faster than the overall growth in the state education budget. This means that if the Legislature appropriates funding for a 7% increase in total state K-12 education spending, a school district would not be permitted to grow its central and general administrative spending faster than 7%.

The limitation on the growth of administrative spending proposed in Senate Bill 438 would only apply to school districts larger than 2,000 students. That is because spending in smaller districts tends to be much more volatile; for example, hiring a single administrator in a district of a few hundred students might result in administrative spending growing faster than classroom spending that year. While only 28 of New Mexico’s 89 school districts enroll more than 2,000 students, 85% of New Mexico students are enrolled in those 28 districts.

In addition, because some of the growth in administrative spending has been driven by an increase in state reporting requirements, Senate Bill 438 creates a process to identify and eliminate nonessential, redundant and unnecessarily burdensome state reports. It sets out a goal of reducing the number of state reporting requirements imposed on school districts by at least 25%, consistent with the target set by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham in a 2022 executive order.

As Lujan Grisham told the Albuquerque Journal in a 2018 interview, “The administrative overhead in our schools is outrageous. [Changing that is] going to be hard. Everyone is going to fight it. … But if they think I’m not taking on this fight, they don’t know who I am. We’re taking it on. You have to. It’s outrageous.”

If you share our support for this important reform, we encourage you to visit Think New Mexico’s website at www.thinknewmexico.org, where you can easily contact the governor and your legislators and urge them to enact Senate Bill 438.

Kristina Fisher is the associate director for Think New Mexico