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Gov. Martinez inks education, crime bills

The Gallup Independent - 3/8/2018

SANTA FE - Gov. Susana Martinez signed three education bills, including one major initiative, as well as crime bills by Tuesday evening but had not yet acted on the budget or capital outlay.

At this writing, she had signed 67 bills and vetoed four. Bills unsigned by the March 7 deadline die in what's called a pocket veto.

Education

One long-awaited bill is House Bill 188, which adjusts the public school funding formula from fiscal 2019 to 2023 to allocate funds more equitably among schools. The Legislative Education Study Committee and the Legislative Finance Committee labored over funding formula changes for six years.

"This bill gives more funding to schools with higher numbers of at-risk students, and to schools with more experienced staff," said Rep. George Dodge, D-Santa Rosa, in a statement.

Compared with other states, New Mexico directs a relatively small amount, about four percent, of formula funding to at-risk students, and yet students living in poverty and English language learners may need more help.

HB 188 replaces the current instructional staff training and experience (T&E) index with a teacher cost index (TCI) and increases the at-risk index multiplier. A $22.5 million appropriation covers costs for fiscal 2019.

Legislators and educators have known for years that the funding formula needed an overhaul. Two lawsuits have challenged the formula's fairness. In one case, plaintiffs argue that schools with affluent students receive more funding under the current T&E index and that the state spends less than other states for at-risk students.

Senate Bill 119 increases the minimum salaries paid to teachers at each level of licensure: for level one, from $30,000 to $36,000; for level two, from $40,000 to $44,000; and for level three, from $50,000 to $54,000. It's the first permanent compensation increase in state statute for teachers at every level since 2003.

Martinez said she was disappointed that legislators didn't pass House Bill 310, which would have increased starting salaries to $38,000 for level one teachers, guaranteed an increase for all teachers, and created a $5 million appropriation for innovative teacher recruitment and mentoring activities.

And the governor signed Sen. George Muñoz's school security bill.

Senate Bill 239 would allow the Public School Capital Outlay Council to spend up to $10 million over four years for security repairs and renovations, such as such as perimeter fencing, intercom systems, and single point-of-entry buildings.

"We must continue to do all we can to ensure our students and school staff are safe on school grounds ? especially in the wake of recent tragedies and threats," Martinez said. "I encourage school districts to continue to collaborate with law enforcement and continue to implement other innovative ways to keep their students and staff safe and secure."

Starting this year, school districts and charter schools can apply for these funds. The $40 million is earmarked in the public school capital outlay fund, meaning it could reduce funding available for other school projects.

The governor vetoed House Bill 151, by Rep. Derrick Lente, D-Sandia Pueblo. It would have required the 23 "Indian-impact-ed" school districts and four charter schools to assess what Native American students need to succeed in school and in the workforce and required schools to prioritize budgets based on the assessment and develop programs.

As she did with a similar bill by Lente last year, the governor called HB 151 an unfunded mandate.

"HB 151 requires unspecified school districts to provide potentially costly programming and services, but contains no appropriation and offers no guidance on best practices or on how to measure progress," the governor wrote in her veto message.

Lente has said the bill simply requires schools to use the federal dollars they receive to improve Native student success.

"This is a matter of utilizing funding to best benefit students." Lente said.

According to a legislative analysis, the 23 districts and four charters received $36.7 million related to Native students, or an average of $1,067 per student, which is primarily used to provide services and resources in consultation with tribes. Many uses already align with provisions of the bill.

Statewide, about 34,400 Native students attend public schools and about 6,000 attend Bureau of Indian Affairs and tribally-controlled schools.

Crime

Drug court funding will stabilize with the signing of House Bill 35, which changes the distribution of liquor excise tax revenues. A temporary increase in distribution to the local DWI grant fund is now permanent, at 45 percent instead of being reduced to 41.5 percent, and a new distribution of 5 percent to a new drug court fund will be used to offset client service costs.

Drug courts provide treatment program for non-violent offenders whose criminal activity stems from drug addiction and/or mental health issues. The programs have 950 participants on any given day. According to studies, about half of all jail and prison inmates are addicts; New Mexico has 13,000 inmates.

Drug courts have a 19 percent recidivism rate, according to the Administrative Office of the Courts, compared with 46 percent rate of the Corrections Department. Drug courts cost $24 per client per day; housing an inmate costs $102.72 per day.

Also signed was House Bill 52, intended to fight crime and reduce car theft. It requires auto recyclers and salvage yards to check whether a vehicle has been reported stolen, using an electronic system at the state Taxation and Revenue Department, before they take possession.

Taxes

Martinez signed two bills by Rep. Eliseo Alcon, D-Milan.

House Bill 149 helps Native American veterans recover state income taxes withheld improperly while they were serving on active duty passed the House on Monday. The state has $25,500 in the fund and 18 to 20 applications.

House Bill 140 allows taxpayers to donate their refunds to the New Mexico Housing Trust Fund for affordable housing construction or rehabilitation.

 
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