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Education-funding suit hangs over session | Education

If state Sen. Bill Soules had his way, New Mexico would invest an extra $375 million in public schools right now.

Where the cash-strapped state would find that money is another matter altogether.

Soules, a Las Cruces Democrat, once again has introduced legislation calling for the state to follow the recommendation of a decade-old study and funnel hundreds of millions of dollars more into its public education system — one that generally ranks at or near the bottom in most national reports.

But Soules’ bill doesn’t have a chance in the upcoming legislative session. And he knows it.

“Every year I put that in there,” he said. “I know there’s not enough money for it, and I know it’s not going to get funded. But it’s to remind people how we are underfunding education year after year after year.”

If Soules’ bill is a muffled drumbeat that barely registers, then a still-undecided lawsuit asking a state court to force New Mexico to increase investments in its per-student funding formula to meet constitutional mandates could serve as the cymbal crash that makes both the governor and Legislature act on the matter.

As the 30-day legislative session begins this week, the lawsuit is the 800-pound gorilla with nowhere to sit — yet.

Some lawmakers from both political parties, as well as experts and attorneys involved with the case, agree the lawsuit might have lit a fire under both Gov. Susana Martinez and legislators to propose putting more money into public education this year — especially into programs that benefit such “at-risk” students as English-language learners, special-education children and those who come from impoverished families.

“I’m not certain that the lawsuit itself is responsible for that, but it encouraged additional money to that area, especially after we listened to some of the testimony of that case,” said Sen….

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