By BARBARA CALEF
The League of Women Voters of New Mexico (LWVNM) urges Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, the Public Education Department (PED), and the Legislature to withdraw their motion to dismiss court oversight of the Yazzie/Martinez Compliance and to invest in priority funding for education in New Mexico.
Strengthening educational systems and funding education at this time has the potential to support the economic recovery and development needed in the State.
In July, 2018 Judge Sarah Singleton issued a Decision and Order in the Yazzie/Martinez lawsuit, finding that New Mexico had failed to comply with its constitutional mandate to provide a sufficient education for children living in poverty, English language learners, Native American students, and children with disabilities.
Inadequate training for teachers was also cited by the Court. Native American and Latino communities have waited for a multicultural/multilingual educational system since New Mexico became a state in 1912. And now the pandemic has highlighted inequities in education for vulnerable people in our State.
The New Mexico Legislature and the PED have taken significant steps to address the Court findings. Legislators increased funding for education 25 percent since the 2018 session. The PED developed an Educational Plan, Budget Submission Process, and support materials for each district and charter school to implement culturally and linguistically responsive frameworks, and requires each school district to establish an Equity Council, as well as a monitoring system. Changing major systems takes time. Monitoring of the process by the court continues to be necessary until there is more evidence of the desired outcomes for the groups identified in the lawsuit.
The following outcomes need to be addressed in accordance with the Yazzie/Martinez Decision and Order:
- Teacher salary increases must be sustained to attract and retain qualified teachers; and
- Equitable funding must be provided for SUFFICIENT services for at-risk Pre-K-12 students.
The following changes in educational systems must be implemented in all NM public schools:
- expanded multicultural curricula;
- learning experiences involving family and community;
- enriched resources;
- multiple, relevant assessments; and
- ongoing professional development for educators.
The Equity Councils designed to address multicultural education needs in all New Mexico schools must function as intended.
The infrastructure for technology resources and communication must be developed in rural and low-income areas of New Mexico.
All New Mexico public schools connect children and families to social services, including physical and mental health services.
As the Legislature determines how to reduce the budget, investing in education will help decrease poverty and needs to be the number one priority for funding. The federal CARES Act may temporarily defray some state funding, but cannot supplant the state’s commitment. Education influences every other issue in the State and can drive economic recovery and transformation. Funding needs to be funneled to the students identified in the lawsuit, with oversight of the process by the PED. Lack of funds is not a defense for infringing on constitutional rights. Legislators are well aware of revenue sources. It is imperative to re-prioritize more funding for education.
The Legislature is urged to pass legislation that will allow voters to approve using an additional distribution from the multi-billion-dollar Land Grant Permanent Fund earmarked for education. Inequities in education and poverty will continue until the Legislature invests in education as a priority for a healthy economy. The League of Women Voters of New Mexico supports continued court oversight of the Yazzie/Martinez compliance and the investment of significant funds to achieve the outcomes expected from the court findings.