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New Mexico among states that may get millions in fed funding for poor students

New Mexico has a major stake in the current No Child Left Behind overhaul underway in the U.S. Senate. Depending on what the final bill looks like, poor students in the state could expect a greater amount of per-pupil education spending.

Right now, the education bill proposed by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) avoids a section on formula funding — the complicated series of spending calculations that stakeholders squabble over to secure an extra few percentage points. One education analyst opined that was a conscious choice to “keep the peace,” given how prone Congress is to torpedoing legislation.

The specific funding source, Title 1 of the law currently called No Child Left Behind, distributes some $14.5 billion to schools with a high percentage of poor students. Over $6 billion of those dollars fall under the “Basic Grant Formula” that gives federal money to any school district with at least 10 poor students and 2 percent of its student population in poverty. Much poorer districts compete with relatively well-off districts for a slice of that funding.

But a tweak to the funding is necessary. “Ultimately, these formulas do not always distribute funds as they are intended to because they also take into account state size, per pupil expenditure, and even the degree to which a state equitably funds low- and high-income schools, “Jennifer Cohen of New America Foundation in Washington, D.C. notes. “In other words, the formulas are riddled with political agendas, logrolling and compromises.”

Census figures from 2009 show states like New Mexico and Arkansas receive less federal school funding geared for lower-income students than a wealthier state like Wyoming.

Some groups have been lobbying Congress to address the unfair nature of the formula funding on the books. The Rural School and Community Trust appealed to both chambers in 2010 to re-examine the distribution of federal dollars to districts with a high number of poor students. That report can be found here.

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