During the New Mexico 56th legislative session, the New Mexico Public Education Department introduced Bill 130 to the Legislative Education Committee which would add an extended school program called the K-12 Plus Program. Bill 194, which further explains the finances of the program, was also introduced to the Legislative Finance Committee.
The K-12 Plus Program would provide additional program units for public schools that would increase the number of instructional days beyond 180 days for a five-day school week and more than 155 days for a four-day school week, according to the bill. This means grades K-6 would have 990 instructional hours and grades 7-12 a total of 1,080 instructional hours per school year.
“(NMPED) know from a lot of research that, including in New Mexico, these extended school year programs have had a beneficial impact on student academic performance,” Eilani Arellano, NMPED policy analyst, said.
Currently, the NMPED has two programs with extended learning time: the K-3 Plus program, which was established in 2007 and includes kindergarten to the third year of elementary, and the K-5 Plus program, which was established in 2021 and goes from kindergarten to the fifth year of elementary.
Both programs required schools to add a total of 25 days to their school year calendar, something many NMPED schools were not comfortable with. This is why the Extended Learning Program, which adds only 10 days to the calendar, was created, according to Arellano.
“Because of the restrictions that existed in law in the current programs, we thought we were missing out on schools that would participate if they were more flexible,” Arellano said.
The current existing programs, K-3 and K-5, have not had as much participation as the NMPED would like to see due to the extra days required in order to get funding, according to Arellano. She hopes that by merging the proposals, they will have a better program with a better outcome.
“So, all of these proposals were talking about you hopefully getting to take all the best parts and put them all together, and the idea is to replace these existing programs that have had not as high performances,” Arellano said.
The current recommended budget for the program is in the $300 million range, which will pay for the participant school’s funding, according to Arellano.
Currently, only 13 school districts are participants in the K-5 Plus Program and 84 school districts participate in the Extended Learning Program, according to Arellano.
“This will actually fund the schools already doing it for doing what they're already doing. And also give schools to meet the new minimum requirements, and then also have a really big pot of money for schools who even want to go over that and that's in the extended learning in K-12 Plus,” Arellano said.
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Billie Helean, a first grade teacher at Ernest Stapleton Elementary School, which is a participant in the Extended Learning Program, is not too supportive of the K-12 Plus Program.
“I think extending the time that our students are at school, either by hours in the day or by days in the year, would be excessive. So, it just seems like a lot to me to ask for students to stay in a seat for that long. As a teacher, I know that we need to do what's best for students,” Helean said. “And so it brings me to pause wondering as a teacher, if I work extra hours, is it really going to have the impact that everyone wants it to have?”
Helean said she’s enjoyed the Extended Learning Program as she feels that the extra 10 days have been beneficial not only to her but to her students as well.
“It also gives us time to reflect on the work that we've done in that period to make sure that we're serving our student's needs, and it's really, really helpful for a teacher to be able to reflect like that,” Helean said.
The program also requires professional development for teachers outside of instructional hours. The goal is to provide teachers with, as the name implies, more professional development and support to encourage higher quality teaching and help them grow as professionals, according to Arellano.
“It's also helpful because during what we call Professional Learning Communities, we actually have time to look at student data and to look at ways that we're doing interventions. For students to make sure that we're targeting where students have the most gaps and filling in those gaps,” Helean said.
The professional development hours will be decided on the local level as long as they meet an unspecified minimum of professional development hours, according to Arellano.
Ultimately, Helean said that she hopes the legislation will actually help students and staff.
“I want to make sure that the legislation that's being passed is going to be beneficial for those who are most directly impacted: the staff and the students. And it's tricky because, in some of it, you really want to see extra funding,” Helean said.
Annya Loya is the news editor at the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at email@example.com or on Twitter @annyaloya