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New Mexico lawmakers support school funding in Native areas

The bill has the support of Democratic leadership.

Cedar Attanasio
Associated Press

SANTA FE, N.M. — A bill that would undo an education funding formula that disproportionately deprives Native American communities of school funds earned support Wednesday from members of the New Mexico House Education Committee.

School districts surrounded by tribal lands, as well as federal lands like military bases, rely on federal education Impact Aid instead of the traditional land taxes that other communities can raise.

New Mexico’s education funding formula has for decades deducted federal Impact Aid from state education funding. In recent years, 75 percent was withheld under this formula, depriving affected school districts of around $60 million in the 2020 fiscal year.

Chronic underfunding of education for Indigenous students and other vulnerable group was ruled unconstitutional by a state court in 2018. The ruling was upheld last summer after a motion to dismiss by Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham was rejected.

Instead of deducting the 75 percent, schools would be able to use the funding on things like language education or capital improvements — items deemed to be deficient in the state lawsuit.

The bill, which passed the committee on a 14-0 vote, has the support of Democratic leadership.

After initially fighting to preserve the withholding in a separate federal lawsuit last year, the Lujan Grisham administration embraced changing the practice. The administration's education secretary advocated for the change last year and welcomed Wednesday's vote.

“Removing the credit for federal Impact Aid is a priority of the Public Education Department and the governor, and equity demands that we get that done as quickly as possible,” Public Education Secretary Ryan Stewart said.

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Attanasio is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues. Follow Attanasio on Twitter.

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