Lawyers from the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), who had successfully represented school districts and families in a landmark lawsuit over education in New Mexico, presented recommendations to the heads of the Legislative Education Study Committee and Legislative Finance Committee last month. Legislators face a mid-April deadline to make progress.
Over a hundred educators, administrators, tribal leaders and advocates from across the state met on Sept. 17 to discuss educational opportunities students need to learn and thrive. The meeting was the third and largest held on how to reform the state’s public education system since the court ruling in June on the consolidated lawsuit Yazzie v. State of New Mexico and Martinez v. State of New Mexico. The First Judicial Court declared that the public education system does not meet requirements of the state’s constitution. The court found that the system particularly failed low-income, students of color, Native Americans, English-language learners and students with disabilities, and ordered the state to make sweeping changes to its schools to provide students with programs and services they need to be college and career ready.
“The ruling has provided an incredible opportunity to transform public schools for our children, grandchildren and generations to come,” said Lauren Winkler, attorney at the New Mexico Center for Law and Poverty. “We look forward to working with the state to bring it into compliance with the court’s order.
“It’s going to take all of us to transform public education in New Mexico,” said Emma Jones, lead organizer of the Learning Alliance. “Parents, students, educators and community leaders have been working together on solutions, and we now have a blueprint for real change. This movement will not stop until every student has access to the quality education all our children need and deserve.”
The coalition agreed upon a comprehensive platform that greatly expands access to culturally and linguistically relevant curricula, enhances teacher supports and promotes programs such as universal pre-K and K-5 Plus. It would extend the school year, lower class size and increase funding for the At-Risk Index. The plan includes significant increases to per-pupil funding and teacher pay, time on tasks in the classroom, access to early childhood education, and culturally and linguistically relevant curriculum. “We should be leveraging New Mexico’s tremendous assets and diversity,” said Carmen Lopez, executive director of College Horizons.
The plan also eliminates current teacher evaluations, suggests ways to recruit and retain educators, and would restructure the Public Education Department, requiring expertise in multicultural education. The PED is appealing the judge’s ruling.
“Education is the single most important investment we can make in New Mexico’s future, not only for positive educational outcomes but for our economy and quality of life for all New Mexicans,” said Veronica Garcia, superintendent of Santa Fe Public Schools, a plaintiff in the Yazzie lawsuit. “We have an opportunity to make transformative changes to our education system that we all know will help our children learn and thrive. Politics as usual must end. There can be no more excuses. We must give all children the education they deserve.”
A definitive cost for the groups’ plan has yet to be determined. The state recently announced a projected $1.2 billion budget surplus, mostly from oil and gas production revenues.
A copy of the platform can be found at: http://nmpovertylaw.org/yazzie-proposed-remedy-platform-2018-09-17/. A summary of the court’s opinion can be found at: http://nmpovertylaw.org/graphic-yazzie-martinez-decision/. More information on the Yazzie/Martinez lawsuit can be found at: http://nmpovertylaw.org/our-work/education/