If the bills that deal with education in this legislative session were snowflakes, we’d have a blizzard in the Roundhouse. There are more than 100 bills dealing with K-12 education alone. Higher education, early education and other extracurriculars double that number.
But there’s a whole subset of bills that aim to tailor New Mexico’s education system to its diverse student body, especially Hispanic, Native American and English learner students. The bills would ensure students have access to bilingual and multicultural education, teachers who look like them and social services so that disadvantaged students thrive when they are sitting at their desks.
Amid the storm, at least one of those bills is being carried along swiftly. HB 394, sponsored by Rep. Tomas Salazar, breezed out of the House Education Committee Wednesday morning on a vote of 10-1. With only one committee assignment, it now heads for the House floor.
The bill would mandate that state educators get 10 hours of training in culturally relevant instruction every year. It would also make sure that, starting in 2024, all new teachers are certified in bilingual education, or in teaching English learners — called a TESOL endorsement, or Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages.
The state Public Education Department says 14 percent of New Mexico students are English learners who require teachers with those skills.
Rebecca Blum Martinez, the director of the bilingual and ESL program at the University of New Mexico, said having every educator qualified to teach English learners makes sense in New Mexico. It’s the same requirement California has because of its large number of immigrant students. What’s more, she believes PED is undercounting the number of English learners in the state because more than one-third of households in New Mexico speak a language other than English.
“You never know when you’re going to have an English learner in your classroom,” Blum Martinez said.
Southern states like Georgia and Alabama didn’t believe they’d ever have this problem, and now they have to figure out how to teach the children of immigrant agricultural and food industry workers, Blum Martinez said. TESOL courses give teachers strategies to help students with language so they can learn material at their own grade level, and it gives them the skills to work with children from different cultural backgrounds. That’s important in a state where large segments of the student population speak Spanish or one of several Native languages at home.
Currently most New Mexico education students have no knowledge of Pueblo or Navajo cultures, and Judge Sarah Singleton’s findings of fact said most Native American students might spend their entire school careers without having even one teacher who is American Indian.
“This is the fact of life in the U.S.,” Blum Martinez said. “You’re never going to be in a school where there aren’t this great diversity of students and different needs around language.”
She said the five year lead time should give state colleges of education the breathing room to add TESOL requirements to their programs. It’s something New Mexico State University already does. And UNM has the classes as options in its program.
Another bill that made it out of the House Education Committee on Wednesday was a proposal to require school districts and charter schools to provide school nurses, social workers and behavioral health services to the students who need them.
House Bill 121, sponsored by Rep. Patricia Roybal Caballero, D-Albuquerque, would require districts to put together an annual social services plan for its schools that it would submit to the Public Education Department. The PED would then seek funding from the Legislature to pay for staff and programs. The bill was described as one way to help implement the community schools model, in which schools partner with community groups to provide health care, after school programs and tutoring to improve student achievement.
Ellen Bernstein, president of Albuquerque Teachers Federation, rose in support of the bill to say it would help teachers deal with a “crisis in the classroom” of students who showed up suffering from trauma, or Adverse Childhood Experiences, that affects their learning and that of the children around them.
“It’s a great start to say it’s a part of our education system — that we have those support systems for the students, the teachers and the families,” she said.
There was some concern among legislators that there would be mandates or punishment from PED over the service plans, or that it would become another regulation from the Legislature that came without any money to implement it. Lauren Winkler, the expert witness who was a lawyer in the Yazzie Martinez lawsuit, said there would be a one-year lag between when plans were submitted and when PED made requests from the Legislature so that districts and schools would not be on the hook to pay for the services out of their regular budgets.
The bill passed 10-3 and will go next to the House Appropriations and Finance Committee.