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Education Bill Age Cap Could Shut Down School Serving Adults In Jail

Hannah Colton / KUNM
School director Kimberlee Hanson stands near an art display at Gordon Bernell Charter School's downtown Albuquerque campus.

Tucked inside a major education bill New Mexico lawmakers are considering is an age cap that would ban public schools from getting funding for students older than 21. The idea is that anyone 22-and-up could pursue the GED instead of a high school diploma, but staff and students at Gordon Bernell Charter School (GBCS) in Albuquerque are calling for lawmakers to spare their program.

GBCS serves only adults, mostly in jail and after they get out. Executive director Kimberlee Hanson says most incarcerated students read at less than a junior high level, and many are aged-out special education students, so they really benefit from the services that a public high school can offer.

"We’re able to meet them where they are, and we’re able to provide these rich wraparound services so that they have the infrastructure to succeed in transition," said Hanson.

"I do want to say that there are adults in the community that can do the GED," Hanson added, "and it's wonderful that we have all these options. It does not need to be an either-or situation."

Hanson says her staff and students have been contacting lawmakers, asking them to delete the age limit from the omnibus education bill, or to insert a "do no harm" clause that would allow GBCS to continue operating.

The legislation would allow currently enrolled adult students to stay enrolled.

The Legislative Finance Committee notes that public schools pay more per adult student than adult education GED programs do, with similar dropout rates. The bill’s sponsors did not return requests for comment in time for broadcast.

The bill is scheduled for its final House committee hearing on Friday.


KUNM recently live-streamed a longer interview with Hanson and two GBCS students; watch it here.


Support for KUNM’s Public Health New Mexico project comes from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the McCune Charitable Foundation, and from KUNM listeners like you.

Hannah served as news director at KUNM and reported on education, Albuquerque politics, and anything public health-related. She died in November 2020.
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