By Christine Chandler
House Dist. 43
First District Court Judge Sarah Singleton has launched a major transformation of New Mexico’s system of public education. The next step is going to be up to the incoming legislature and governor, who have been given a mandate and an opportunity: to break the barriers of ideology and wishful thinking that have kept New Mexico’s public schools in last-place for too long.
The Plaintiffs in Martinez & Yazzie v. the State of New Mexico claimed the State’s educational system does not satisfy the provision in the New Mexico Constitution that “a system of free public schools sufficient for the education of and open to all children of school age in the state shall be established and maintained.” The Plaintiffs specifically questioned whether the population of “at-risk” students is provided a sufficient education, but because in New Mexico the “at-risk” population is well over 70 percent the entire structure was considered. Judge Singleton found for the Plaintiffs, and her opinion constitutes a thorough and disappointing overview of the dismal condition of the public school system and an outline of away forward.
The evidence presented to the court shows the state does not provide adequate or sufficient:
(1) instructional materials such as textbooks, workbooks, culturally relevant instructional materials for American Indian students, and especially computer technology and access, (2) reasonable curricula addressed to at-risk students such as full-day Pre-K, K-3 Plus, after-school programs, smaller class sizes, and research-based reading programs, (3) Quality teaching – too few teachers, poorly trained or otherwise unqualified teachers, too many entry-level low-paid teachers and an ineffective and unpopular teacher evaluation program.
In every item, the court heard evidence that the inadequacies listed are due to insufficient funding. The State argued that no new funds are needed because at-risk student performance is improving. The evidence shows, however that the minimal improvement cited is far from reaching the level needed. The evidence shows that the current level of funding is, in constant dollars, 8 percent below the level of 2008, when New Mexico was also at the bottom of the pack. Writing “the remedy for a lack of funds is not to deny public school children a sufficient education but to find more funds,” the opinion lists 11 potential revenue sources identified by witnesses.
While the case has been appealed, the evidence presented should be a wake-up call for our state. The public school system not only serves our children, but it significantly impacts every aspect of the economic and social structure of New Mexico. When 70 percent of New Mexico’s students are considered “at-risk”, we have already failed on so many levels. We can and must do better. It is time we valued our teachers and the work they do by raising their salaries to be competitive with our neighboring states. As your Representative, I will demand a drastic shift in the way we fund education and support legislation to fully funding our public schools and early childhood education for all.
Christine Chandler is Los Alamos County Council Vice Chair and the Democratic Candidate for NM House of Representatives, District 43. Her website is www.christine4statehouse.com