Danielle Gurnea said she doesn’t mind the extra hours middle school students teach at Las Cruces, and that if state legislatures approve additional funding for her public school district to expand expanded learning or professional development, she just wants a say in the matter to have.
“I like doing programs with my school, but I also appreciate it when it’s a choice. Do I want to develop professionally to improve myself? Or do I want to devote more time to this project or this particular group of students,” she said Monday at the Roundhouse in Santa Fe.
State legislatures approved funding for local school districts to start expanded learning programs in 2019, and in 2021 Las Cruces Public Schools opted for expanded learning, allowing officials there to add 10 days to the school year, meaning teachers like Gurnea work more.
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“With the increased time, that means you need more planning time, which doesn’t always exist,” she said. “I do most of my planning and grading in my free time. I don’t have enough time at school.”
Gurnea and other educators were in Santa Fe to lobby lawmakers intent on giving all local districts enough money to increase tuition hours. Teachers want to make sure the extended hours don’t create quality of life issues as overworked educators struggle to meet student needs in the classroom.
Educators are paid for the extra hours, including the summer programs they design.
Still, teachers say they’ve lost planning time and want lawmakers to take that into account, along with any laws keeping them in the classroom longer.
“Districts that offer a lot of planning time should be rewarded with more funding,” said Denise Sheehan, a Las Cruces union representative at the national branch of the National Education Association. “Educators just can’t do better if we don’t have the time to plan and prepare rigorous lessons for our students.”
Proposals were presented to New Mexico lawmakers Monday that will determine exactly how much money and time school districts will be given to meet proposed minimum requirements for enhanced learning and for professional development.
The Senate Education Committee heard plans from three different sources that are part of the state government: the Department of Public Education, the Legislative Finance Committee, and the Legislative Education Study Committee.
All three aim to set a required minimum for students and teachers of 1,140 hours of instruction per school year, which could total up to 190 school days depending on the calendar set by the school district.
According to legislative analysts, 23 of New Mexico’s 89 school districts are currently meeting the proposed tuition requirements through their expanded learning programs.
Schools without extended learning that offer a five-day week currently work at or under 180 days, while schools with four-day school weeks average 155 days.
Some details from the LFC and PED plans were made available to lawmakers Monday. However, as of Monday, only one bill on the matter had been filed by Rep. Joy Garratt (D-Bernalillo) and Rep. Andrés Romero (D-Bernalillo).
House bill 130 is supported by the Legislative Education Study Committee, and according to the committee’s analysis, the $302 million proposal would fund most school districts to add 1,140 hours of instruction to the school year if the plan is passed. It also funds districts to add 60 hours of professional development for teachers.
The LFC proposal costs the most. It’s a $391 million plan that will fund nearly half of New Mexico’s school districts to meet the new hourly minimum, and it requires no further professional development for teachers.
The Public Education Department’s proposal is $311 million. PED wants all school districts to be funded to introduce extended learning and requires 80 hours of professional development in addition to the minimum 1,140 additional hours.
Sen. Gay Kernan (R-Hobbs) is a member of the Legislative Education Study Committee and said she wants to ensure that whatever decision is made to implement these new school terms, the decision to introduce these new school dates remains with local counties because they know the situation in their communities . needs.
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“Additional time in the classroom leads to a better outcome for students because we’ve lost so much time during the pandemic, and I don’t disagree with that,” Kernan said. “I agree with the idea that just adding more hours — unless it’s valuable time spent in the classroom — really doesn’t do the student that much good.”
This debate is also being watched by prospective educators whom the state is desperate to recruit and retain. Danielle Hamilton is a senior at New Mexico State University and is hoping to teach a first or second grade class. She’s originally from Colorado, but after teaching elementary school students in Las Cruces for a semester, she’s considering staying in the state.
According to legislative analysts, the 184 days that Las Cruces public schools had last year is more than the 160 days of instruction that Colorado teachers averaged annually and more than what 34 New Mexico school districts needed last year.
She has some requirements while looking for a school to start her career.
“I think ultimately just having a school that feels like a community — not just with the teachers in the school, but also with the families and the students — is really important,” she said. “And also to have a supportive administration.”
Hamilton said paying teachers is an incentive but not the only thing she cares about. She sees a need for students to spend more time in the classroom and said she would be happy with a district that meets the new hours minimum. There’s also a work-life balance she wants to prioritize, as it could affect her teaching methods or the length of her career in the classroom.
“Whether you’re hanging out with family and friends or doing things you enjoy in your free time,” she said, “it’s good to have the time to do that instead of just working, working, working.”
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