- Associated Press - Thursday, May 10, 2018

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) - Federal financial support for New Mexico public schools is on the rise, but isn’t necessarily boosting student academic performance, according to an evaluation released Thursday at the state Legislature’s nonpartisan budget committee.

The report from the Legislative Finance Committee provides an exhaustive catalog of more than a half-billion dollars in annual federal funding that supports about 6 percent of the state’s public school teachers and childhood nutrition programs.

Major channels of federal education funding have increased for the current fiscal year that runs through the end of June, including money for schools with high numbers or percentages of children from low-income families.

Federal support varies by school district, and the evaluation found little evidence of a correlation between school performance and per-pupil federal funding. Much of the federal funding for New Mexico schools goes toward discounted or free school meals.

“There was a weak relationship between per-student federal funding and low-income student proficiency in English and math,” the evaluation stated.

The evaluation recognizes efforts by the administration of Republican Gov. Susana Martinez to direct state and federal money toward evidence-based initiatives including preschool for low-income families, teacher mentorship programs and an extended school year.

It also points out that school districts could potentially receive and spend more federal money on programs including prekindergarten and lengthening the school year.

New Mexico Public Education Secretary Christopher Ruszkowski said in a statement that his agency and many innovative school districts seek to leverage federal grant funding to get a good return on the state’s investment.

“It should be noted that almost all federal dollars flow directly to the districts, leaving little flexibility” for the Public Education Department, he wrote. “Even when it comes to competitive federal dollars, they also flow almost entirely to the districts.”

The agency has not followed a state legal requirement to provide an annual report on the sources and uses of all federal funds.

New Mexico’s average rates of student academic proficiency and for high school graduation trail most of the country.

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