August 1, 2023

More learning time, free meals coming to students this school year

As children prepare to return to school for the new public school year, they will see some changes after legislation passed in the 2023 legislative session. 

These include the K-12 Plus program which adds more learning time for students, teacher pay increases, universal free healthy meals and the new Office of Special Education under the New Mexico Public Education Department.

“We’ve made great strides in the last year to reinforce the hard work educators across New Mexico already do in the classroom,” Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said in a press release. “The changes everyone will see as they enter classrooms this month are designed to support students, teachers, administrators and parents, bolster the effort to improve test outcomes, and put New Mexico on the map as a national leader in the education movement centered on students.”

These changes come new laws passed during the legislative session earlier this year.

HB 130 increases annual minimum classroom hours to 1,140. The legislation also encourages school districts to provide students with more learning opportunities such as after-school and summer school programs, tutoring and career technical education. The bill also includes time for teachers to use for professional development.

HB 127 increases minimum educational assistant pay to $25,000 per year. Grants were set up in December 2022 through the Early Education and Care Department to help pre-k teachers financially and professionally. Teacher pay increased by an average of 20 percent.

SB 4 established the Healthy Hunger-Free Students Bill of Rights that provides free breakfasts and lunches to  all K-12 students beginning in the 2023-2024 school year.

Also established in time for the 23-24 school year was the Office of Special Education.Lujan Grisham created the office under the PED and is expected to support “more effective and timely services by requiring special education professional development for a broader range of education professionals, better coordinating special education across state agencies, more actively promoting recruitment and retention of special educators, improving state accountability and oversight, and ensuring more consistent, statewide data collection,” the governor’s office news release states.