Lawmakers: Budget excludes rural, tribal voices in education

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.

New Yazzie court filings seek more action on education

The state didn’t spend enough, and it still doesn’t have a plan. That, in essence, is what attorneys in the state’s landmark Martinez/Yazzie education lawsuit argue in a legal motion that seeks concrete steps to guarantee Native Americans, English learners, disabled and low-income students a sufficient education. 

Wilhelmina Yazzie, lead plaintiff in the case, has two high schoolers in the Gallup McKinley district. She said even after the state pumped nearly half a billion into the public schools, her sons aren’t seeing it in the classroom. There are no new textbooks or computers, teachers are still providing resources out of pocket and classes that reflects their Navajo culture are still lacking. “I know a lot of our teachers, they do want to help our children.

Blistering brief accuses Legislature of shorting public schools

This legislative session, state lawmakers pumped nearly half a billion dollars into New Mexico’s public schools. The plaintiffs in a landmark education funding lawsuit have three words to say to that: 

It wasn’t enough. 

In a scorching court brief filed this morning, the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty, which represents the plaintiffs in the Yazzie/Martinez vs. State of New Mexico case, said almost all of the money appropriated by the Legislature is going toward teacher salary increases. That has left little or nothing to expand programs that were specifically promoted by Judge Sarah Singleton as ways to sufficiently and equitably educate low-income, Native American, English language learner students and those with disabilities, said the Center in the brief. 

The plaintiffs say the increase in education funding, when adjusted for inflation, still doesn’t bring the state back to pre-2008 funding levels. 

That puts the state in direct violation, they contend, of the court order that stipulates the state rectify a failure in its constitutional duty to educate children. Lauren Winkler, staff attorney for the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty

“Unfortunately, the Legislative Finance Committee made financial decisions before education policy could be designed, so that led us to where we are now,” Lauren Winkler, an attorney with the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty, told NMID.

Lawmakers drill down on response to education lawsuit

Lawmakers got a status report of sorts on New Mexico’s response to a landmark education court decision last year when members of the Legislative Education Study Committee met Wednesday in Santa Teresa. After a day of hearing from rural superintendents, the Transform Education NM coalition that formed after the lawsuit, and deputies from the Public Education Department about progress made toward resolving the state’s failures in educating at-risk children, it’s clear there are still a lot of questions.  

Much of the discussion centered on implementation of new laws and how additional money lawmakers appropriated this year is being spent. Committee members generally were happy with teacher raises, but had pointed questions about the roll out of extended learning time programs, the way some districts handled raises and how money was being spent. 

“Let’s talk about the students first. We’ve increased funding for at-risk, ELLs, special ed. That’s trickling down to the districts and I hope it’s something positive,” said Rep. Raymundo Lara of Chamberino, whose district includes the Gadsden schools where the meeting was held.

NM lawmakers pass high dollar education legislation

The House and Senate on Tuesday both overwhelmingly passed multimillion dollar education bills that are in large part an answer to the Yazzie Martinez funding lawsuit that found New Mexico was shortchanging at-risk students in violation of the state Constitution. The nearly identical bills, which will now have to be reconciled in a committee from both chambers, put about $337 million toward raises for teachers and other educators, extend the school year by 25 days for up to 91,000 elementary school students and more than double dollars dedicated to those at-risk students: low-income, English language learners and Native American students. “This bill is a once in a lifetime game-changer for all the students across the state. While many components of House Bill 5 address the requirements of the recent lawsuit, there are multiple dimensions that will have far reaching impact over decades to come,” House Floor Leader Sheryl Williams Stapleton, a co-sponsor of the bill, exhorted forcefully as she called for a vote. “For example, by doubling the at-risk funding factor, schools will make important decisions that will fit their students to help them be successful.”

The bill passed that chamber successfully by 53-14.

New Mexico faces moral test on educating diverse students

When Wilhelmina Yazzie thinks back to elementary school, she remembers feeling shame in not speaking “proper English.”

These days, Yazzie feels pride in speaking Navajo and wants the same for her children when they grow up. “That would be one of the great accomplishments, if we get (Native language classes) in all the schools,” Yazzie said a few weeks ago to talk about a historic ruling in a lawsuit that bears her name. However, the school district her children attend – Gallup McKinley – gets just $25,000 in Indian Education Act funding to serve about 9,000 Native American students. “That is pennies. There’s hardly anything we can do with that to meet the cultural and linguistic needs that are required under this law,” said Superintendent Mike Hyatt.