With about 24 hours left in this year’s session, Rep. Derrick Lente, D-Albuquerque, was celebrating additional money earmarked in the state budget to help tribes take more control over educating their own children.
“We’re walking out of the session with $35 million for the tribal remedy framework,” said Lente of the Sandia Pueblo. The tribal remedy framework is a set of goals negotiated and agreed to by the state’s 23 tribes going into this year’s session that would beef up tribal education departments and resources.
In recent years tribes have demanded more control over educating their own children and have used the 2018 landmark Yazzie/Martinez v. State of New Mexico court ruling to buttress their case. That ruling found New Mexico negligent in providing a sufficient education to at-risk students, which includes Indigenous students.
Indigenous students make up about 34,000, or 11% of New Mexico’s K-12 student population and they lag behind their New Mexico peers in reading, math, high school graduation and college enrollment. The Yazzie/Martinez decision suggested those outcomes mostly stem from decades of underspending and neglect by New Mexico, shattering the perception that blame rests on children and their families instead of on a systemic failure.
Lente and others had sought more than $40 million in additional money for tribes, but the $35 million is a significant boost over previous years. For example, $15 million of the $35 million in the budget would go toward beefing up tribal education departments and is substantially more than the $5.25 million appropriated for this year, which ends June 30. There is also new money in the budget to increase salaries for teachers who hold a Native American language and culture certificate.
“I think this year, beyond any before, is where we are seeing the tides change,” Lente said.
Advocates also wanted to change how money is distributed to the tribes for education from one-off annual grants that require extra work to automatic funding year-in, year-out. That effort failed, Lente said, but he vowed to advocate for that change next year.
He added that tribes over the next year can build their case to change the distribution method by demonstrating that they have put the money to good use this year. “Most people want to make sure we’re going to use the money and the accountability measures are in place so we can say that when we come back next year. The needle is moving.”