New Mexico In Depth won awards competing against New Mexico’s largest newspapers this weekend at the annual New Mexico Press Association contest, earning top honors for education writing and second place in investigative reporting.
In the education category, Shaun Griswold and Trip Jennings’s award-winning story drew upon government reports, court documents and data — as well as interviews with teachers in rural school districts serving mostly Indigenous students — to chronicle the devastation wrought by the pandemic.
COVID-19 hit New Mexico, which perennially ranks low nationally in education outcomes, as the state had begun to beef up public schools spending to address historical inequities identified in a landmark 2018 court ruling. That year, a state judge found New Mexico had violated its own Constitution for not adequately supporting education for at-risk students for decades. Three of every four public school students in New Mexico are considered at-risk.
The pandemic turned back the clock on that hard-won progress.
As our reporting showed, one of every 10 students enrolled in public education statewide was referred to a state-sponsored coaching program, many for being disengaged, regularly missing classes, or in danger of failing one or more classes. And according to surveys, nearly half of families with children in kindergarten through fifth grades reported struggling with a computer for learning and one of every five students in sixth through 12th grades reported having to take care of younger siblings. In addition, more students reported a housing situation impacted by economic hardship.
“New Mexico’s student outcomes remain low, and will only be exacerbated by learning loss from the Covid-19 pandemic,” state officials told state lawmakers.
In explaining the story’s first-place finish, contest judges praised the comprehensiveness of New Mexico In Depth’s reporting.
“The problems that beset the past school year are well-known, but this story really illuminated how big the losses were,” the contest judges wrote. “The hard data and anecdata were well-chosen to explain the significance of this setback.”
In the investigative reporting category, Bryant Furlow’s yearlong investigation for New Mexico In Depth and partner ProPublica showed that the tiniest, most premature babies died at up to twice the rate at Lovelace Hospital compared to the rate at another major maternity and newborn facility only a few miles away in Albuquerque. Between 2015 and 2019, close to half — 46% — of the 84 extremely preterm babies born at Lovelace either died at the hospital or were transferred to University of New Mexico Hospital, according to Health Department data and UNM Neonatal Intensive Care Unit records — a finding that experts said should be investigated.
In addition, our reporting showed that New Mexico provides almost no oversight of the care provided by neonatal intensive care units despite 31 states, including neighboring Arizona, Oklahoma, Texas and Utah, having laws or rules requiring oversight of neonatal intensive care hospitals.
“I’m extremely proud of these particular stories and more generally the type of journalism we do at New Mexico In Depth,” Executive Director Trip Jennings said. ”We know how fortunate we are to do stories like these.”