July 20, 2023

Legislature hears about post-COVID impacts on education

Public education is still recovering from the effects of COVID-19 lockdowns.

The state Legislative Finance Committee’s Public Education Subcommittee released a report Wednesday detailing what has been done to combat issues relating to the pandemic’s consequences in schooling in the state’s Public Education Department.

This year’s NMPED LegiSTAT report focuses on school attendance, graduation rates and reading and math assessments.

All three of these are linked to future economic outcomes for New Mexico’s students, the report states.

“Another key factor underpinning these metrics is student attendance, which fell sharply after school closures during the COVID-19 pandemic. There are several evidence-based options to improving the state’s dismal student outcomes and closing achievement gaps with at-risk youth, including increasing the quality and quantity of instructional time, recruiting and retaining high performing educators, and providing appropriate curriculum. In recent years, the state has enacted legislation and significantly increased appropriations in support of these objectives,” the report said.

The state’s absentee rate is based on the number of students who miss at least 10 percent of the school year, an amount that doubled during and in the direct aftermath of the pandemic and is currently at 35 percent, the report states.

“Leading drivers of absences include physical and mental illnesses, lack of transportation, housing instability, school safety concerns, and lack of connection to schools,” the report states. “The state has invested in community schools, school-based health centers, universal school meals, telehealth, school security, and extended learning time to increase access to school.”

During this year’s legislative session, the legislature approved a bill that makes expanded learning time mandatory for public schools and charters. This was done as a means to combat poor grades, absenteeism and to help graduation rates.

HB 130 repealed the existing Extended Learning Time and K-5 Plus programs by creating the K-12 Plus program that increased minimum instructional hours for school’s calendars to 1,140 per year. Previously, the minimum hours were 990 hours for elementary students and 1,080 hours for secondary students.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed the bill into law on March 16 and went into effect on June 16.

Schools had until April 15 to submit their budgets and calendars for the upcoming 23-24 school year and the NMPED had until July 1 to approve the school’s budgets and calendars.

“The PED secretary recommended statutory changes phasing out K-5 Plus and ELT programs and replacing the interventions with new instructional hour and day requirements. Additionally, PED suggested redoubling efforts to improve school leader competencies and expanding prekindergarten programs. The committee expressed interest in amending statutes to improve PED’s oversight over schools and ensure schools spent funding on purposes intended by legislation,” the report states.