The Fickle Effect of the Economy on Education

By Caroline Zamora

New Mexico is ranked 50th in education according to the most recent Kids Count report.1 Moreover, we rank 38th in preschool attendance in children ages 3-4, 50th in fourth grade reading level, 47th in eighth grade reading level and 47th in high school seniors not graduating on time. Additionally, the same report states that New Mexico ranks 50th in children in poverty, 38th in children with no health insurance and an overall national rank of 49th.

According to the NEA or National Education Association, New Mexico pays teachers an average of $47, 163 a year.2 In the same report Massachusetts pays their teachers the most, an average of $76,981. In comparison, and according to the latest Kids Count data, Massachusetts is ranked 1st in education.3 In a study by the Harvard School of Education researchers found that in six Massachusetts schools, each a high performing school and each a high poverty school, all prioritized developing teachers.4 This correlation between teacher pay or investment is certainly not the cause of our education crisis but there are many other variables and factors that have contributed to the state of education. 

One of those factors is what we chose to invest in. Our state cannot pay teachers and invest in our education system if we can’t keep a healthy state budget. State Representative Bill McCamley, a Democrat from district 33 for Las Cruces and Mesilla explained to me that over the last decade the state chose to invest in tax cuts for some of the wealthiest citizens and large corporations in our state. This is trickle-down economics, or the idea that tax cuts and financial incentives for the wealthy will fuel economic growth that will eventually benefit all of society. 

Christopher Jencks, a faculty researcher at the Harvard Kennedy School explains that trickle-down economics has been the cornerstone of the Republican domestic policy strategy since the 1980’s, and similar economic strategy began to appear in the 1960’s.5 However, he and his colleagues’ research findings show that a 1% increase for the wealthy top 10% would lead to a 0.12% increase to GDP (gross domestic product) the next year, a very small effect. And it would take 40 years for the lower 90% to see a 5% increase in their income. 

A decade ago, New Mexico assumed that trickle-down economics would lead to job growth and increased economic prosperity would lift the state out of the recession. However, this is simply not the case. Rich job growth and tax cuts did not generated revenue the state need. Therefore, as McCamley explains the state has had to rely on investments in oil and gas. Over the last year, the price of oil and gas have gone down hurting the state’s revenue even more, plunging our state into a deficit. Forcing the state to tap accounts such a school reserves and slash other budgets throughout the state mid-year to make up for the deficit. This has directly impacted our schools.  

Maria Flores, President of the Las Cruces Public School Board explains that since 2009 Las Cruces Public Schools (LCPS) have received less funding each year. LCPS knows going into the year what their budget will be and can anticipate a cut in funds so they can then plan accordingly. However, as Flores points out, the destabilization for LCPS happens when budget cuts are made mid-year. For example, LCPS received cuts of $2.9 million in the State Equalization Guarantee (SEG) Distribution, $500,000 in transportation, and $190,000 in Instructional Materials. These were cuts that were made mid-year and hurt the school district.

These state cuts also impact our local higher education system. New Mexico State University (NMSU) has also faced deep cuts during legislative session. McCamley explains that 54% of NMSU’s budget comes from the State. As reported in the Las Cruces Sun News, NMSU will see a $12.1 million budget cut in the upcoming year. Anne Hubbell, Ph.D. and Professor in the Department of Communication Studies, explains that when the economy went down, enrollment went up. Most departments didn’t hire more because they knew eventually enrollment would go down. While enrollment has gone down nation-wide, we’ve seen a flattening or stable enrollment number in the last few years. However, this means that with cuts and revenue dollars from low-student enrollment, it is inevitable that student tuition will go up. 

Claudia Martinez, a senior at NMSU, says, “A tuition increase would cause a lot of stress and hardship for me. Especially because this would not be the first tuition increase I’ve gone through while at NMSU.” 

Anne Hubbell explains that NMSU’s budget cuts will impact hiring of faculty the most. Faculty has already been spread thin in areas such as mentoring more graduate students. This really impacts the students as the faculty only has so much time to complete their duties for their department on top of mentoring students, teaching and conducting research. At some point, students will not receive the attention and mentoring they need. 

How does this affect the children in public schools? Maria Flores believes that the highest impact to students is stress. It also creates stress on administrators who want to support their teachers, but hit road blocks due to funding. And it translates to stress for the teachers through larger class sizes which ultimately hurt instruction. 

Sylvia Davis, an eighth-grade teacher at Picacho Middle School believes that teachers will be impacted most next year by larger class sizes and teaching multiple subjects. Traditionally, for example, a teacher would teach one subject such as Algebra. Due to hiring freezes or vacant positions not being filled, teachers will be teaching multiple subjects. This affects teachers because multiple subjects mean multiple lessons plan materials to purchase. With budget cuts to instruction materials like this, teachers will be increasing the amount they personally spend on materials.

Chris Nunez, a fourth-grade teacher at Hermosa Heights Elementary School, explains that teachers pay for more supplies than most people would think. Teachers often bought supplies such as markers, glue, paper or special lesson plan materials. “Some students, not all, will walk in with absolutely no supplies for the year and the teacher at times is expected to supply these materials. Replacing student materials can also occur throughout the entire year. Parents seem to only purchase at the beginning of the year expecting those materials to last all year long. This is rarely the case and teachers have to buy notebooks and supplies to be utilized by students who run out of materials.”

Students will also see the direct effect of budgets in field trips, programs such as athletics, music and arts. Other programs will lose funding all together such as the K-3+ program, which provides students with additional instruction over the summer months.6 

Our students, our teachers, our professors and our community suffer when there are cuts to education. I remember an economics professor once said, “Budgets are moral documents.” It wasn’t until years later that I truly understood what he meant.

Summer 2017

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