CCSD, Navajo Nation leaders applaud change to school Impact Aid cash distribution formula

Noel Lyn Smith
Farmington Daily Times

GALLUP — Central Consolidated School District and Navajo Nation leaders are commending New Mexico lawmakers for approving a bill to redirect federal Impact Aid money received by the state.

House Bill 6 would change the distribution method for Impact Aid from a system where funding is pooled then distributed to all public schools to one where funding is sent only to underserved schools, including those that primarily serve Native American students.

Impact Aid is a federal program designed to assist school districts that have lost property tax revenue because of federal tax-exempt property, such as reservation land or military bases.

CCSD receives Impact Aid because it is comprised of 98% of land on the Navajo Nation, leaving it with about 2% of taxable property, according to the district.

The bill passed both the House and Senate before the legislative session ended on March 20. It is awaiting Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham's signature.

CCSD called the approval by state lawmakers a "game changer" because it could potentially restore approximately $15 million to the district, which would benefit students and provide for facility and infrastructure improvements.

"We applaud these champions of our children for helping us right this historic wrong and urge the governor to sign HB 6," Superintendent Daniel Benavidez said in a press release.

Benavidez thanked state representatives and senators for backing the measure as well as officials from school districts in Gallup and Zuni and leaders from the Navajo Nation and pueblo governments.

Benavidez mentioned that the inadequacy by the state to fund schools serving Native American students was determined in the Yazzie Martinez education lawsuit and House Bill 6 "rights a wrong" in the way CCSD has been funded.

Gary Montoya

Gary Montoya, president of the district's Board of Education, added that the coronavirus pandemic added to the cause by exposing "woeful inadequacies" in technology and internet access for students learning remotely.

"HB 6 will go a long way in helping the district transform the challenges that CCSD students face into opportunities for expanded learning and a foundation for success both as students and throughout their adult lives," Montoya said.

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez and Vice President Myron Lizer commended the passage as well.

"The Navajo Nation, along with other tribes in New Mexico, have been advocating for this change for years to allow school districts with high Native American students populations to receive the full benefit of federal Impact Aid. We are optimistic that Gov. Lujan Grisham will sign the measure into law," Nez said in a statement.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 or by email at nsmith@daily-times.com.

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