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Tierna Unruh-Enos is the managing editor and associate publisher at The Paper.

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It was a busy day in the governor’s office on Monday, as Governor Lujan Grisham signed four separate bills targeting education and child welfare in New Mexico.

Impact Aid for Schools

Alongside tribal leaders from all across New Mexico, the governor signed legislation ending credits for impact aid payments in the public school funding formula, providing school districts with federally impacted land access to more than $60 million. The legislation provides equitable federal funding for underserved schools, especially on tribal land. “This was an equity issue, and I’m grateful to the Legislature for understanding the great need to rectify it,” she said.

Impact aid is intended to offset property tax losses from tax-exempt federal and tribal lands within the districts’ boundaries. In New Mexico, property taxes are used to fund school capital projects–new buildings and building improvements. “This change will benefit Native American citizens, especially the Zuni people, for generations to come,” said Governor Val Panteah of the Pueblo of Zuni. “These additional educational dollars will allow our school district to provide programs and facilities that have only been hopes and dreams in the past.  This is a historic day for Native peoples throughout the State of New Mexico.”

Special Education Ombud Act

The Special Education Ombud Act received bipartisan support in the Legislature and was high on the governor’s priority list. The act creates a new office under the Public Education Department that will advocate for students’ educational rights. The special education ombud will serve as an independent advocate and watchdog for public school students and provide comprehensive support for families navigating the state’s complicated special education system. The office will ensure that students and parents receive information about the student’s rights and are provided with adequate services to meet the student’s needs and timely responses when they have questions or concerns about their child’s education. “From now on, students and families will have an expert ally who understands the process from beginning to end. It is the intent of this administration to provide every child, including students with disabilities, with the best education possible,” said Lujan Grisham.

Family Income Index

The governor signed Senate Bill 17, which passed both the Senate and the House with flying colors. The index allows the PED to use data from Taxation and Revenue and Human Services departments as well as census data to identify the household income of public school students in order to identify schools with the highest concentrations of poverty. Additional funding will be directed to those schools. Research has shown that concentrated poverty often complicates teaching and learning and the disparities are shown in academic outcomes. The Legislature appropriated $15 million for the Family Income Index for each of the next two years, which will be divided among eligible schools.

Child Support

Lujan Grisham also signed Senate Bill 140, which is designed to modernize the child support payment system in the state by updated how child support is calculated. The bill also aligns the state with federal rules based on the combined parents’ actual income and the non-custodial parents’ ability to pay to calculate the monthly child support amount. It also allows the state to provide employment opportunities to help non-custodial parents meet their child support payment obligations.

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