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Did School Closures Impact Education In New Mexico?

New Mexico suffered from some of the most draconian pandemic-related school closures in the country: how did this impact educational outcomes?

On Tuesday, Esteban Candelaria, a staff writer with the Albuquerque Journal, reported on delays in academic assessment reporting from the New Mexico Public Education Department (NMPED).

While data from SAT testing will be made available in August, the finalized data from the third through eighth grade Measures of Student Success & Achievement (MSSA) assessment will not be released until November.

It is worth noting that the College Board, a private nonprofit, publishes the SAT. The test itself is administered on behalf of College Board by Educational Testing Service. MSSA is provided by NMPED.

Lynn Vasquez, director of assessment and learning management system at NMPED, said the delays are only expected for this year.

The delay comes after two years of chaotic classroom closures, sporadic reopening procedures, and forced masking, all stemming from emergency declarations used by Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Event information aggregator Burbio tracked in-classroom school disruptions across the country throughout the pandemic. New Mexico students lost more classroom time than all but five other states.

While the official testing is not yet available, the Albuquerque Journal suggests that student achievement this year has been “a bit of a mixed bag”. Nationally, the New York Times recognizes that long schools closures were not good for learning.

The lost school year will inevitably harm the earning potential of children from the poorest communities most, New Mexico being one of the most impoverished states in the country. In the report When the Great Equalizer Shuts Down: Schools, Peers, and Parents in Pandemic Times from the National Bureau of Economic Research:

Using a quantitative model to examine the consequences of extended school closures for high school students, the researchers determined that children living in the poorest 20% of U.S. neighborhoods will experience the most negative and long-lasting effects of school closures. For example, their model predicts that one year of school closures will cost ninth graders in the poorest communities a 25% decrease in their post-educational earning potential, even if it is followed by three years of normal schooling. By contrast, their model shows no substantial losses for students from the richest 20% of neighborhoods.  

Francesco Agostinelli, Matthias Doepke, Giuseppe Sorrenti, and Fabrizio Zilibotti
National Bureau of Economic Research

As more families recognize the precarious nature of the educational situation, enrollment at New Mexico’s largest school district has decreased dramatically. Albuquerque Public Schools (APS) saw an 8% enrollment loss in just two years. The enrollment loss is being used by APS to justify increased spending in a district already plagued by bloated budgets.

APS Superintendent Scott Elder probably sees the writing on the wall: the poor performance and negative educational outcomes of APS are all but a certainty, and he is capitalizing on these failures by requesting a budget with more funding to fix the problem. This attempted cash-grab comes despite the acknowledgement of impending budget cuts just over two months ago.

The Legislative Finance Committee (LFC) released a report in April, contradicting Elder’s proposed budget. The LFC called for increased efficiencies in workforce and facilities while Elder’s budget would increase per student spending from $22,877 per year to an astonishing $27,267 per student, per year. This amounts to $1.936 billion for fiscal year 2023.

Governor Lujan Grisham likely faces a tough election season. The crowded Republican field of gubernatorial candidates includes Mark Ronchetti, Greg Zanetti, Jay Block, and Rebecca Dow. The primary concludes on June 7. The presumptive nominee will have plenty of Lujan Grisham’s baggage to leverage in what is shaping up to be a fierce general.

Delaying the release of the educational reporting, intentionally or otherwise, is expedient to limiting the incumbent’s political exposure.

How fortuitous that the worst educational years in the history of New Mexico will not be made official until after November’s election.

By Patrick M. Brenner

Patrick Brenner is the founder and president of the Southwest Public Policy Institute, a limited-government research institute and think tank focused on the southwestern United States. An advocate for open government, he leads the institute's government transparency and accountability efforts.

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