With little prospect of undoing the cuts legislators have exacted on school districts, one of New Mexico’s biggest teacher unions is rallying around a state budget proposal it says will at least prevent further reductions in funding.
“We’re talking about holding the line,” Charles Bowyer, executive director of the National Education Association of New Mexico, told teachers and reporters at the Capitol on Monday.
The $6.1 billion budget approved along party lines by the House Appropriations and Finance Committee earlier in the day would boost spending on public schools by about $32 million for the fiscal year that starts July 1.
Democrats have the votes to pass the budget in the Senate and House of Representatives, but a spokesman for Republican Gov. Susana Martinez has said she will not sign it, pointing to accompanying proposals for raising taxes.
“The governor is not going to accept a budget so disconnected from New Mexico values,” press aide Michael Lonergan said in an email, pointing to Democratic proposals to boost revenue by raising certain gross receipts taxes.
The disagreement signals a long battle ahead over a budget that school administrators and teachers will watch closely as they grapple with the effects of cuts made during the last year.
The budget proposal that advanced Monday would not totally make up for the roughly $46 million cut from the cash reserves of school districts or cuts during a special legislative session last fall. But, Bowyer said, the plan would at least stave off further cuts.
School districts are already warning about the consequences of this year’s budget cuts.
The superintendent of Rio Rancho Public Schools lashed out at legislators in a letter to parents last week, writing that she had never seen “such disregard for public education and the future of our children in New Mexico.”
“Additional cuts will force us to consider options that will affect students, staff and parents,” V. Sue Cleveland wrote. “Our district will no longer look the way it looks today. Everything will need to be considered — electives, shortening the school year, specialized programs, activities, athletics, etc.”
Democrats have argued that boosting funding for education will require new revenue, such as higher taxes on gasoline and cigarettes.
And liberal lawmakers have tried to turn their legislation to raise taxes into a referendum on funding for public schools.
“It’s just a downright fight between those who say no new revenue and those of us who say no more cuts to education,” said Sen. Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque.
With lawmakers expecting the state to bring in even less revenue next year than in the previous year and the governor so far silent or outright opposed to raising taxes, school districts and teachers could be left watching a long fight.