‘School choice’ costs should remain private

Senate Joint Memorial 12 may sound like a great idea on its surface.

The proposal from Broadview Sen. Pat Woods asks the Public Education Department to study the effects of transporting students between school districts “to support school choice.”

Who could be opposed to school choice? No one with common sense. However, this plan would require taxpayers to dig deeper into their wallets to cover the additional cost of a bigger government.

New Mexico already offers “school choice” for public school students. Clovis residents, for example, can choose to send their children to schools in Melrose or Texico, or anyplace else in the state. And some do.

Grady Superintendent Ted Trice said 32 percent of its enrollment already comes from Clovis. Parents drive them to the district’s border, where they are bused to the campus. Or students drive themselves.

Woods’ proposal could lead to the state funding transportation costs for that out-of-district travel.

Many smaller districts love the idea since it could increase their enrollments and state tax dollars. Clovis Superintendent Terry Myers said schools receive about $3,500 a year for each student enrolled.

While taxpayers pay the same no matter if the student attends Dora or Portales schools, smaller districts would need more money for gas and perhaps more bus drivers. Ultimately, it might lead to a district seeking more money for added teachers and classrooms, supplies and utility costs.

Don’t believe for a second the new costs will be offset by the loss of students in larger districts that lead to reduced costs for them. A few hundred new students would triple Grady’s enrollment and necessitate big changes. But that’s only 2 percent of Clovis’ enrollment — hardly cause to lay off staff, and it can’t exactly unbuild classrooms anyway.

Then there’s the cost of driving from the rural communities to the larger districts — costs currently absorbed by parents, as they should be.

Fortunately, SJM 12 asks only that the PED develop a pilot program to study the proposal. If it somehow passes the Legislature this month, it would not become a new tax burden for at least another year or two.

With teacher pay and multiple other school budget issues to consider, we’re hopeful lawmakers won’t ever pile long-distance travel costs on taxpayer plates.

 

Unsigned editorials are the opinion of the Clovis Media Inc. editorial board, which includes Publisher Ray Sullivan and Editor David Stevens.

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