Capital funding formula for New Mexico schools is ruled unconstitutional

Dec. 31, 2019
A judge decides that New Mexico's method of funding capital projects unfairly enables wealthy school districts to spend more.

A New Mexico judge has ruled that the state's system for funding and facilitating capital improvements in school districts is unconstitutional.

The Albuquerque Journal reports that Judge Louis E. DePauli Jr. says the Zuni and Gallup-McKinley school districts have shown that the capital outlay system in place is not uniform or sufficient, which goes against constitutional requirements.

“The trial evidence established that property-wealthy districts can spend millions and millions of dollars to build physical facilities over and above the (Public School Capital Outlay Act) adequacy standards for physical facilities that property-poor districts can only dream about, all the while bypassing the utterly complex and tortuous process of applying for and receiving ‘grant assistance…'” DePauli said.

The “present statutory scheme itself creates and allows substantial disparities among school districts in capital outlay funding.”

Rep. Patty Lundstrom says the legislature should change the capital outlay funding system for public schools in the upcoming 60-day legislative session.

“I am very willing and ready to work on getting this corrected as the judge has directed,” said Lundstrom, chairwoman of the House Appropriations and Finance Committee. “It is my area of the state that has seen this disproportionate formula.”

DePauli found that the current system results in “property-poor” districts paying more in taxes but getting less.

Bob Rosebrough, a lawyer representing Gallup-McKinley County Schools, says a significant amount of funding for construction and maintenance of schools is dependent on how much money property taxes can generate.

“(The system) is not ‘uniform’ as intended because the funding scheme, being directly tied to the property wealth of the school districts, allows property-wealthy districts, at their discretion, to raise and spend much more money than property-poor districts to build facilities to their satisfaction while paying significantly lower tax rates,” the judge found.

The ruling also says that “property-poor” districts end up relying on the state to build facilities, but the state funding for capital outlay is insufficient.

About the Author

Mike Kennedy | Senior Editor

Mike Kennedy, senior editor, has written for AS&U on a wide range of educational issues since 1999.

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