Jennings, New Mexico In Depth's executive director, is an award-winning veteran journalist who has worked at newspapers across the nation, including in California, Connecticut and Georgia. Besides working at the Albuquerque Journal and Santa Fe New Mexican, Jennings was part of a team that started the New Mexico Independent, an influential online newspaper.
Yesterday as I watched Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s news conference about Covid-19 via livestream I flashed back to 2003 when Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) was sweeping the globe. The moment strengthened an urge I’ve had the past few days to think about the lessons I learned more than a decade and a half ago.At the time of the SARS outbreak, I was working in Hartford, Conn. and already pondering how diseases spread. I’d spent late 2001 and early 2002 covering anthrax after a 94-year-old woman living 10 or so miles from our family was one of five Americans to succumb to the disease. I mention anthrax only because it introduced me to epidemiology, a branch of medical science that tracks infectious diseases.
Bernalyn Via of the Mescalero Apache tribe visited the Roundhouse on Fb. 10 to lobby lawmakers. Photo credit / Trip Jennings
As the annual legislative session races to an end Thursday, think of the New Mexico Legislature as an industrial-strength strainer. Only a portion of bills will pass through. But some lawmakers are saying too many bills being filtered out come from communities that are home to students identified in the landmark Yazzie Martinez education lawsuit as shortchanged in the state’s public schools.The House of Representatives and Senate may be wrangling over last-minute changes to the state budget, but raging behind the scenes is a debate over whether the spending plan is responding to the court order that demands New Mexico educate its at-risk students better.
Last year the debate over New Mexico’s first-ever Ethics Commission was about its day-to-day running and its independence. This year it’s about money.
And the game is on. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham wants to give the state’s independent Ethics Commission a lot more operating money than lawmakers. She recommends nearly $400,000 to help the commission get up and running in its first few months of operation. The Legislature’s request is half that.
Did you miss Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s state of the state speech yesterday to open the New Mexico Legislature’s 2020 session? You can watch the entire speech here thanks to NMID partner, NMPBS, which broadcast it live and recorded it for posterity.
A short exchange at Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s town hall last month captured the magnitude of the mission New Mexico is on as it seeks to remake public education. A mother, a recent transplant to Albuquerque from Gallup, told Lujan Grisham that school officials said her 8-year-old autistic daughter couldn’t learn Navajo.
“Because it would confuse her,” the woman said, confessing the information hurt and angered her.
“This has been going on for years and years and centuries with our culture,” the speaker said into a microphone so she could be heard by the crowd and those listening online. “I want her to learn who she is, where she came from and her identity and growing up and being proud of who she is.”The woman’s complaint could have been lifted from a 2018 court ruling that these days is forcing New Mexico to invest big in educating students who’ve historically gotten less. Noting federal and state governments’ forced assimilation of indigenous children over centuries, the late state Judge Sarah Singleton said the practice led to a “disconnect from and distrust of state institutions, such as public schools, where Native American values are not respected.”
Lujan Grisham acknowledged to the woman the state’s imperfect lurches toward improvement as New Mexico tries to overturn decades of policy and funding decisions to better educate at-risk students, most of whom are from communities of color.The state is struggling “to get the cultural and linguistic requirements of every student met” despite increasing funding for Native American students, the governor said. “The fact that we are not doing it for you means that we have to provide more support for your school, to you and to your daughter,” Lujan Grisham said before encouraging the speaker to meet with her Education secretary, Ryan Stewart, who sat a few feet from his boss on stage. The moment showcased one New Mexico family’s obstacles and served as a reminder that stories such as these likely aren’t rare in a state where a majority of the state’s public school students qualify for at least one risk factor. Lujan Grisham and state lawmakers return to Santa Fe this month with that reality in mind after pumping a half a billion additional dollars last year into the public education system, which takes up nearly half of the state budget.
Claudia Sanchez, a fourth grade dual language teacher at at Mesquite Elementary, explains how to round numbers in Spanish this fall.
We pick up where our story left off last year. As in 2019, we find New Mexico’s fortunes glittering in a 21st-century version of a gold rush in the oil-rich southeast as state lawmakers prepare for the 2020 30-day session.
Policy makers will have about $800 million more in revenue than this year’s state budget to work with when crafting the state’s spending plan for the fiscal year that starts July 1. In an election year like 2020, it’s easier to partition a surplus than to cut programs and services, as state leaders discovered a few years ago in 2016 after a freefall in tax revenue forced painful choices. “We’re lucky to have the kind of revenues that are coming into the state,” Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham told an audience last month at an Albuquerque town hall.
There’s always a “but,” however, and Lujan Grisham didn’t disappoint. After acknowledging New Mexico’s gilded economic forecast, she recited a backlog of needs..“Our roads aren’t safe.
Albuquerque is home to one of the largest urban Native populations in the country. And yet you rarely see sustained, quality journalism about this community.That changes next year.Starting in June of 2020, New Mexico In Depth will embark on a reporting project that centers Albuquerque’s Native American population thanks to Report for America, a national program that pairs host newsrooms with ambitious reporters. NMID has been selected as one of RFA’s host newsrooms in 2020-2021. NMID proposed to cover a population that intersects with many of the complex challenges confronting New Mexico. There is much reporting to do – about resilience, about creativity, about a continuing effort to empower younger generations through culture and language retention. And, yes, about the thorny problems that disproportionately affect Native communities. New Mexico’s underserved populations deserve quality news coverage. This grant pays in part for a new reporter for this worthy project, about half of his or her salary and benefits. NMID must raise the balance.So here’s where you come in. We’re asking you to help us financially.
Check out Gwyneth Doland hitting the highlights of the report she did for us on the state’s history of redistricting on the latest episode of New Mexico In Focus, which aired this weekend. For those not up on what redistricting entails, every 10 years New Mexico state lawmakers are assigned the task of redrawing district lines on the map for the Legislature, the U.S. House and other offices, based on population changes the U.S. Census Bureau records. But New Mexico’s redistricting process isn’t governed by many rules and it’s done largely out of the public eye, Gwyneth found. After you watch the New Mexico In Focus segment, read Gwyneth’s report and essay to learn more about this arcane process. We promise you’ll feel better informed about one of the most important jobs our Legislature performs.
Creating New Mexico In Depth was an act of resistance. To a smaller local press corps. To politicians deciding what the story is. To the powerful defining the rules. And most importantly, to making sure the voices of people most affected by social issues are heard.
Trip Jennings, executive director of New Mexico In Depth
History is written by the victors. That adage jangled around in my head this week as I made my way through the New York Times’ 1619 Project. An ambitious heave in its Sunday magazine and special section, the project argues that to understand our nation better we need to fundamentally alter how we view slavery and everything that came after.
Even if critics call it propaganda and a rewriting of American history, the publication of the 1619 Project by one of the nation’s leading newspapers shouldn’t surprise us. How we tell the stories about who we are as a nation, our place in the world and our deepest values – what we know as our nation’s history – has regularly changed. Since our country’s founding, successive generations have revisited what stories from our past to lift up and what stories to downplay based on the present.
Today the United States is more ethnically diverse than it was a few decades ago, and will only become moreso.