A report to state lawmakers shows there are 22 pending applications submitted by local New Mexico school districts for help funding projects. (Photo by Shelby Wyatt for Source NM)
State lawmakers learned public school buildings in New Mexico have just one pending application for improvements to pre-Kindergarten buildings.
New Mexico lawmakers who sit on the Public School Capital Outlay Oversight Task Force oversee the work of the Public School Capital Outlay Council. In late May, they heard the testimony during an interim legislative committee in Santa Fe.
The council manages public funding and signs off on improvements to public school buildings in the 89 school districts in the state, along with The New Mexico School for the Deaf and The New Mexico School for the Blind and Visually Impaired.
The council has 273 active projects, and has funded 15 projects so far in the current fiscal year, according to a presentation on May 26 presented to lawmakers from the group watching how local school districts spend money.
The Public School Capital Outlay Council has six funding programs for New Mexico:
- School or building replacement, renovation or addition
- Building system replacement or upgrades
- Renovation or additions to Pre-Kindergarten buildings and classrooms
- Housing units for teachers working in rural areas with no available housing
- Paying back costs paid by schools and charters for renting out buildings
- Helping pay for five-year school building plans
There are 22 pending applications submitted by local New Mexico school districts for help funding projects, including 13 for new buildings or renovations, five for building systems, three for teacher housing, and one for Pre-Kindergarten, according to the presentation.
State workers at the Public School Facilities Authority actually carry out the projects approved by the council. They distribute public funds, help local school district officials manage projects, and collect and organize data on public school buildings.
So long as a school district has a pre-K program, any school facility is eligible to get money from the council, according to the presentation.
After the last legislative session, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed House Bill 505, which set aside $65 million for maintenance and repair of public schools, along with $35 million for school security infrastructure.
She also signed Senate Bill 131, which reduces the amount of money that school districts have to contribute to a given project called a “local match.”
That new law, which goes into effect in July, cuts in half the amount of money districts must throw in for all pre-Kindergarten projects.
Public Schools Facility Authority executive director Martica Casias said a lot of district officials are waiting until July 1 to apply so they can receive those benefits.
New Mexico Senate President Pro Tempore Mimi Stewart (D-Albuquerque), an SB 131 co-sponsor, asked if that explains why only one Pre-Kindergarten application is pending.
“We think that some of it’s waiting for July 1, but we’ve also not had a high demand,” Casias responded.
Cabinet Secretary for Early Childhood Education Elizabeth Greginsky will present to the council about the needs she sees across the state, Casias said.
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The New Mexico Early Childhood Education Department “is about to have millions of dollars, so I think we’re ready to expand, but I’m a little concerned that nobody’s asking for these classrooms, and I don’t quite understand why they’re not,” Stewart said.
“We want to go all in on Pre-K but if school districts are not going to apply for these, that’s a big loss in my book,” Stewart said. “Perhaps July 1 we’ll see a difference but I think this is something we need to keep an eye on.”
The council awarded five Pre-Kindergarten projects last year, with three in Farmington and two in Las Cruces, Casias said.
Dr. Karen Sanchez-Griego, superintendent at Cuba Independent School District and a voting member of the Task Force, said she thinks there has been miscommunication and confusion among superintendents about whether the Pre-Kindergarten money can be used for construction or operations.
“A lot of us have started applying — I think I just signed an application last week, and I know that a lot of my colleagues are signing applications for the new pre-K,” Sanchez-Griego said. “I think you’ll probably get a lot of applications here in the new term.”
For the rest of the summer, the Task Force’s work plan shows they will, among other things, monitor sources of public funds for these projects and the overall progress “of bringing all public school facilities up to the statewide adequacy standards” laid out in state law.
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