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N.M. Extends Extra-Days Program Aimed at Some Low-Income K-3 Students

A New Mexico program providing 25 extra days of class time for children in kindergarten through 3rd grade has brought excellent results according to outside evaluators. Now, thanks to a bill signed by Republican Gov. Susana Martinez on April 8, the program will continue for schools that have improved above the qualifying standards for entering the program. 

Only schools with a D or F rating from the New Mexico Public Education Department, have qualified for the funding to run the K-3 Plus program. The idea is that the children at these low-performing schools, most of whole come from low-income families, can benefit greatly from the extra school days. The $1,100 per student it costs to staff an extra month worth of school is awarded to districts based on grant applications filed to New Mexico's PDE. The new law will allow schools and districts that have risen above the D or F rating as a result of their participation in the program to continue offering it.

K-3 Plus is optional and offered only in public schools where 80 percent or more of the student population qualifies for free or reduced-price lunch. A 2013 Albuquerque Journal story about one border district offering the program noted that most of the students there were children of migrant workers who came to school for the extra days partly to get fed.

"This is a place where kids who qualify for federally funded free breakfast and lunch at school get back in line to see if there are leftovers," Colleen Heild wrote in the lead for that story.

Researchers from Utah State University are in the midst of conducting a randomized longitudinal study of the program's effectiveness and have found promising preliminary results.

"I was a little surprised by the magnitude of the effect," Damon Cann, the project's co-investigator, told the Journal. "The effect of having just an extra month of school for these kids before the regular school year starts is really substantial."

In 2013, the latest year for which numbers are available from the state education department, the program served 11,639 students at 142 schools. Students receive at least 90 minutes a day of literacy instruction and are grouped with the same teacher who will lead their class during the regular school year. Participating teachers and administrators also received extra training in how to teach reading.

Gov. Martinez signed the bill extending the program at an Albuquerque elementary school Wednesday, saying the legislation "allows those schools that improve their grades to build on the momentum and continue to improve," according to AP.

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