Today’s ABQ Journal attempts to clarify (sr) how our money is distributed to schools in NM. Excerpts:
Under a formula developed in response to a lawsuit by a tiny, rural school district, the state cannot simply allocate the money to the overcrowded districts. It doesn’t matter how much it’s needed or how much the governor or legislators want to do it. At best, a council set up to administer the formula could “loan” the district some of the money, which would be repaid in the form of offsets from future allocations.
District Judge Joseph Rich of Gallup ruled that New Mexico’s system for awarding capital outlay money to public schools was unfair and unconstitutional. He told the state to draft a more equitable system.
The state came up with a uniform system for distributing construction money. It is based on various factors, including need, how much local tax potential existed and how much of that potential was being tapped. The system was designed to equalize opportunity statewide when it came to building projects, rather than penalize or reward kids depending on where they lived.
New Mexico’s natural resources provide money to build and improve public schools. The state sells supplemental severance tax bonds and the proceeds go into the Public School Capital Outlay Fund. The bonds are paid off by revenue generated from taxes imposed on the extraction of natural gas, oil and other minerals.
The state Public School Capital Outlay Council, a nine-member board, is charged with identifying critical construction and renovation needs and decides which schools will receive awards from the capital outlay fund. Awards are based on districts’ applications and district visits. The council’s administrative arm, the Public School Facilities Authority, runs the day-to-day operations of the capital outlay program. The authority has construction managers around the state to help keep projects on track.
Every year, staffers visit a certain percentage of the state’s approximate 750 schools to assess construction and renovation needs. The facilities authority maintains a list in which every school is ranked according to construction need. Late in the school year, districts submit applications to the council, then make presentations before the council early in the summer. If a project the district is requesting money for ranks high on the priority list, then chances are fairly good it will be approved. In 2005, the council approved the top 98 projects on the list.
Once the council agrees to fund a project, a formula devised by the Public School Capital Outlay Task Force is used to determine how much money the district will receive and how much the district must pay.
State and district student population, the previous year’s taxable value for the entire state and the district, and the property tax mill levy in the district are all factors considered in the formula. The formula determines how much of their own money districts must contribute for a construction project in order to receive state funding. For example, Zuni is the only school district that receives 100 percent funding from the state under this formula. There are 15 districts that must pay for 90 percent of their construction projects. APS is required to pay 53 percent of its construction.
The Legislature recently approved a new funding program called the High Priority Project Grant Assistance Program. Districts that are experiencing high levels of growth are able to receive large awards to construct new schools. But while the program’s title implies a grant, districts have to pay back what is a loan.
APS officials said it hoped for the full $90 million available in the new program [for new schools on the West side]. What it got was $67 million, of which it must pay back $52 million.