Bill to Limit School Size in New Mexico

Last Updated: March 15, 2009

This article appeared in the February 2009 Rural Policy Matters.
Under legislation introduced in the New Mexico legislature, state funds could not be used for new construction of any school with more than 900 students and a school district could only consolidate schools if it determines “that the consolidation is in the best interest of students served by each of the schools proposed to be consolidated.”
SB 255 is part of an initiative by Think New Mexico, a respected independent think tank that wants New Mexico schools to be smaller. 
If the bill passes, state funds could not be used to construct new high schools with more than 225 students per grade, and smaller numbers per grade for successively lower grade levels, down to a maximum of 60 per grade for kindergarten or pre-kindergarten. 
Although the measure would have most impact in the state’s larger communities, especially Albuquerque, its consolidation planning provisions would impact rural New Mexico as well.
To carry out a school consolidation, a district would have to prepare a study showing the likely effects of the consolidation on the students and the community, including , “…effects on student achievement, student participation in co-curricular activities, student health and well-being, student commuting time and patterns, parental participation in school activities and student learning, annual cost per pupil and total cost per graduate and other factors related to the educational performance of the schools and students.”
Following the study, hearings must be held in each school affected by the proposed consolidation. If after the hearings, the district wants to continue with the consolidation, its plan must be submitted to the New Mexico Secretary of Education who must approve it using the same criteria specified for the study.
The bill has potent bipartisan sponsors. Senator Cynthia Nava, D-Las Cruces, is Gadsden Independent School District superintendent and chairs the Senate Education Committee. Senator Sue Wilson Beffort, R-Sandia Park, is the ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee. 
The Gadsden district that Nava serves as superintendent is a large rural district ranked as one of the Rural 800, the Rural Trust’s list of the 800 highest-poverty rural districts in the country.
Besides limiting use of new construction funds to smaller schools, the bill also imposes the same size restrictions on any use of state funds to enlarge an existing school, unless it will be broken up into smaller schools-within-schools. It also gives funding priority to new school construction projects that integrate the use of existing “community educational facilities” such as gymnasiums, athletic facilities, swimming pools, performing arts facilities, or libraries located within ten miles. 
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Follow SB255 in the New Mexico legislature: 
Smaller Schools Initiative of Think New Mexico
Think New Mexico
Read more from the February 2009 Rural Policy Matters.