Gordon Bernell Charter School fills a gap in New Mexico’s education system, helping adults in jail or who have previously been incarcerated to build the skills they need to finish high school. The school’s future is uncertain after the state Legislature this year banned schools from claiming Public Education Department funding for students over age 21. Leaders at the school went before lawmakers this week to ask for a stable funding source.
Lawmakers in the 2019 session gave Gordon Bernell a year-long exemption from the new age cap, but Executive Director Kimberlee Hanson said the Albuquerque charter school will have to close in June if it doesn’t secure permanent funding.
On Wednesday, she spoke at a joint legislative committee meeting in Española. She urged lawmakers to visit the decade-old program, which offers wraparound services and lets adult students learn at their own pace. “It takes time to build skills, to build self-esteem," Hanson said. "It takes time to show that a student is ready to get out into the job force, and that is what we are all about."
Gordon Bernell leaders are asking to be included in the Higher Education Department budget. Hanson said an annual $2 million would allow them to continue enrolling over 1,000 students a year across seven different campuses, including in the Bernalillo County jail and long-term treatment centers. Hanson said fragmenting those services would end up costing the state more in the long run.
The school has graduated 550 students in the last 10 years, according to school records, and 55 percent of those people had a decrease in criminal charges after graduation—41 percent had no new charges.
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