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New Mexico: "Roughly one in five students...receive special education"; up 10% over 10 yrs

Nov 24, 2023, KRQE, Albuquerque: New Mexico in bottom third of states for special education proficiencies

A new report from the New Mexico Legislative Finance Committee shows that, even though funding for special education in the state has risen dramatically, New Mexico is in the bottom third of states for special education student proficiencies.

“Although much has changed over the past ten years, many of the same issues in special education remain today,” says Clayton Lobaugh, program evaluator for the Legislative Finance Committee.

Roughly one in five students in New Mexico public schools receive special education – meaning they are identified as having a disability, being gifted, or both. That is about 68,000 kids. “New Mexico ranks 13th highest in the nation for the percentage of students with disabilities,” Lobaugh says.

According to the progress report on special education in the state, enrollment in special education is up 10% over the last decade; per-pupil funding for students in special education is up 60%, or just under $4,000 dollars per student since fiscal year 2013.

In fiscal year 2024, New Mexico public schools will get $835 million of state and federal funding for special education, but evaluators have a stark message: “The findings are clear.

Public schools are not fully leveraging their available funding for special education,” says Dr. Sarah Rovang, program evaluator for the Legislative Finance Committee.

The report says public schools have underspent money that has been earmarked for special education by an average of $105 million since fiscal year 2018, but it is not only that; there are not enough teachers who are able to work in special education.

Lobaugh says, “While teacher compensation has increased in recent years, there is still a shortage of roughly 260 special education teachers statewide.”

This is not because there are not enough teachers licensed to work in special education – there are about 1,300 in the state right now – but because there is an inability to attract these qualified professionals to take special education positions.

The report also outlines a need for the public education department to enhance its oversight of education and discipline for students with disabilities.

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