Multicultural education framework advances

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Celina Corral, right, with the Empowerment Congress , teaches a class on cultural diversity at Lynn Middle School, Wednesday on Dec. 5, 2018. The Empowerment Congress is one of Lynn’s community partners.

A bill that would put New Mexico children’s heritage and culture at the center of education is racing to the finish line along with the 2019 legislative session.

Co-sponsored by Rep. Tomas Salazar, HB 159 would set up a parallel structure in the Public Education Department to support the Bilingual Multicultural Education, Indian Education and Hispanic Education acts.

The bill now heads to the Senate Finance Committee after passing through a gauntlet in the Senate Education Committee, where large elements of the bill were stripped out. Committee members said in light of the Yazzie Martinez lawsuit, which found New Mexico wasn’t meeting its constitutional mandate to educate its at-risk children, they didn’t want to include grounds in new statutes for future litigation.

After a tough hearing on Friday, the bill was reworked over the weekend with more than 50 amendments, before passing unanimously in the education committee on Monday morning. All mentions of  the Yazzie Martinez lawsuit are gone. Mandates that “sufficient” resources be given to carry out the trio of education acts are no more.

The bill restructures part of the PED to create three equal divisions for Bilingual Multicultural Education, Indian Education and Hispanic Education, with assistant secretaries, to ensure that the three acts are fully implemented, a shortfall that Judge Sarah Singleton cited in her findings of fact in the school funding lawsuit. The bill also adds requirements for collaboration and reporting among the three and puts the state bilingual advisory council into statute.

The biggest skeptic of the bill, Sen. Craig Brandt, R-Rio Rancho, said his support was contingent on the amendments and on the backing of Deputy PED Secretary Tim Hand, who came to testify in favor of the bill on Friday.

“I’ll be honest with you, I wouldn’t be supporting this without Dr. Hand,” Brandt said on Monday. “I have great respect for him and if he thinks this is necessary to get these areas fixed in education, then I’m going to support it. And I’m going to hope and pray that he is right, cause these are some areas we need to address in New Mexico.”

Edward Tabet Cubero, executive director of the Learning Alliance New Mexico and a spokesperson for Transform Education NM, a coalition that formed after the Yazzie Martinez ruling, said bilingual education advocates were elated at the bill’s passage, despite the removal of some tougher enforcement language.

“Words like ensure, all, require, that type of language, was removed,” Tabet Cubero said. “But at the end of the day, it’s a significant victory for bilingual-multicultural education.”

Transform Education NM supports several other bills that are moving forward. HB111, also sponsored by Salazar, would use school districts’ Regional Education Cooperatives to provide training and support for educators in multicultural education, and is making its way through the Senate. A bill to give scholarships to students pursuing bilingual education degrees was tabled in favor of a broader bill on teacher financial aid by Rep. Sheryl Stapleton, D-Albuquerque, that has passed both chambers. A bill sponsored by Rep. Derrick Lente, D-Sandia Pueblo, that will assess Native American students’ needs, has already been signed by the governor.

Tabet Cubero has hopes for two other bills, including one that requires all new teachers and administrators be certified to teach English language learners, and another that would broaden the state’s literacy program to include biliteracy.

“That’s pretty exciting. That’s the first time I’ve seen language around a core instructional program like literacy actually include bilingualism in it. That’s significant,” Tabet Cubero said. “That likely would never have happened pre-lawsuit.”

But in the end, regardless of what lawmakers do, Tabet Cubero said, the person who most needs to be persuaded about equity in education for at-risk students was Judge Singleton, who ruled against the state in Yazzie Martinez and will be assessing in April the steps taken by lawmakers to fill the gaps she identified in her decision.

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