There is no question that 2018’s Yazzie Martinez education lawsuit has changed the conversation on education in New Mexico.
Yes, there is still the constant discussion about the state’s dead last ranking in education, but the ruling by District Judge Sarah Singleton that the state is failing its constitutional duty to educate at-risk students put some legal force behind demands of advocates that the state do something about it. The future of education in light of the lawsuit was probably the biggest issue in the 2018 governor’s race. And it was behind the nearly half-billion in extra funding allocated by the 2019 Legislature for the state’s public schools.
Despite that cash infusion, advocates say the state didn’t do nearly enough in 2019, and are pushing lawmakers to do much more to transform the education system.
Southern New Mexico, because of its distance, is often left out of the conversation. But last week Ngage New Mexico, a Las Cruces-based education nonprofit, and Transform Education New Mexico, a coalition that came of out the Yazzie Martinez case, teamed up to look at what opportunities lie ahead for the state in education.
They put together a two-hour program at New Mexico State University that featured the lead attorney for the Yazzie plaintiffs, Gail Evans. She laid out the legal basis for the case and some of the remedies the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty is pushing for with the governor and Legislature. Also featured was plaintiff Wilhelmina Yazzie via Skype. The event ended with a panel discussion with students, educators and with NMID reporter Sylvia Ulloa.
The tone of the discussion was set by Dulcinea Lara, a professor in criminal justice and the inaugural director of the new Borderlands and Ethnic Studies program at NMSU. In an address that highlighted 150 years of assimilation-based education in New Mexico, she argued that the state had an opportunity to change education in a way that honors their cultures and backgrounds.
“As a historian, I interpret this ruling as responding to historical wounds,” she told a full house in an auditorium at NMSU.
“Research shows that culturally relevant education benefits all students. Studies tell us that students, regardless of race or class, benefit from taking classes that accurately reflect history, society and all lived realities.”
New Mexico State recorded and archived the event NMSU’s system breaks the presentation into sections, so viewers can click on cards at the bottom of the screen to skip directly to different speakers, including Lara, Evans, Yazzie and the panel.