ByAmy DiPierro and Corey Mitchell, Center for Public Integrity |
For months, Beth Petersen paid acquaintances to take her son to school — money she sorely needed. They’d lost their apartment, her son bouncing between relatives and friends while she hotel-hopped. As hard as she tried to keep the 13-year-old at his school, they finally had to switch districts. Under federal law, Petersen’s son had a right to free transportation — and to remain in the school he attended at the time he lost permanent housing. But no one told Petersen that.
This story was produced as part of a collaboration with the Center for Public Integrity, The Seattle Times, Street Sense Media and WAMU/DCist. See New Mexico In Depth’s story here. When is a student considered homeless? The definition of homelessness among K-12 students is laid out in the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, a federal law that details the help public schools must give unstably housed children. That includes students living in the following conditions:
motels, hotels or campgrounds when they have no other options.emergency or transitional shelters.cars, parks, public spaces, abandoned buildings, substandard housing, bus or train stations, or similar settings.the homes of friends or extended relatives, due to need rather than choice.
Growing up in Albuquerque, high school junior Brook Chavez, who is Diné, never had a Native American teacher until last year, when she took a Navajo language and culture class.
There, the 16 year old learned more about her culture and connected with other Diné youth, coming away prouder about who she is. She felt understood by her teacher, David Scott, also Diné, in ways she hasn’t always in the classroom.
“I learned a lot about my clans, my stories,” Chavez said, adding that at the end of the first semester, she and her classmates performed at Native American Winter Stories, an Albuquerque Public Schools (APS) event. “That’s one of my fondest memories because I got to dress up traditional with all my friends.”
Chavez just wishes she hadn’t had to wait so long.
There’s consensus among advocates and education officials that it’s important for teacher workforces to be representative of student populations, which research shows is linked to better student outcomes. Same-race teachers can act as important advocates and role models. But Chavez’s experience is one that many Native American children attending school in Albuquerque are unlikely to have in the classroom, at least in the near future.
While parents of nearly 10% of APS students report they have tribal affiliations, only 1.2% of teachers the district employed during the last school year were Native American, according to district data.
The state Public Education Department identified increasing racial diversity among teachers as a priority in its draft plan released in May in response to Yazzie/Martinez v. State of New Mexico, a 2018 court ruling that found the state has failed to provide an adequate education to Native children, among other student groups.
And district officials in Albuquerque say they’re working to hire more Native American teachers.
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.
Three bills that would bolster the state’s 23 Native American tribes’ ability to educate their own children cleared their first legislative committee this week.The House Education Committee’s passage of House Bills 87, 88 and 90, sponsored by Democratic Rep. Derrick Lente of Sandia Pueblo, never was much in doubt.With a little over two weeks left in the 30-day session, the question is whether beefed-up money for tribal education contained in the bills will make it into the $8.5 billion state budget.
And whether the Legislature will change how New Mexico distributes money to tribes from one-off grants that require applying for the money each year to an automatic year-over-year appropriation — called recurring in statehouse lingo. Lente explained to his legislative colleagues during Monday’s committee meeting that the legislation before them was foundational to the Tribal Remedy Framework, which details education reform priorities sought by the state’s 23 tribal nations.
In recent years tribes have demanded more control over educating their own children. They’re supported by the 2018 landmark Yazzie/Martinez v. State of New Mexico court ruling that found New Mexico negligent in providing a sufficient education to at-risk students, which includes Indigenous students.Indigenous students, who make up about 34,000, or 11% of New Mexico’s K-12 student population, 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.The court ruling wasn’t the first to name systemic or institutional causes for low educational outcomes for Indigenous students. From the 1960s on, report after report has documented the dismal education afforded to the state’s Native American communities.
The Kennedy Report of 1969, a federal review of indigenous education, acknowledged the classroom was a tool of assimilation for indigenous children for much of this country’s history.
Lawmakers will appropriate a record amount of state money in 2022, thanks to unprecedented oil and gas production. Revenue to pay for year-over-year spending, versus one-time costs, in the fiscal year that begins July 1 is projected to go up by 11%, and most of that — 60% — is due to New Mexico’s dominant industry.
We’ve been here before — entering a legislative session flush with cash with projections that an oil and gas boom will last years. But budget leaders at the Legislature know better, precisely because they’ve experienced first-hand the volatile roller coaster of the oil and gas industry’s notorious boom-bust cycles.
A graph put together by the Legislative Finance Committee demonstrates the past turbulence aptly.
Two years ago, in 2020, state lawmakers went on a spending spree due to robust oil and gas production that economists and industry experts predicted would continue for a decade or more, only to return to Santa Fe a few months later to adjust spending after COVID-19 shut down the global economy.
It was an extraordinary moment, one that demonstrated the wisdom of caution when betting on long-term strong oil and gas production.
And, yet, this is where state lawmakers find themselves in January 2022 as oil and gas production has climbed to its pre-COVID peak.
Despite aspirations to wean itself from over-reliance on fossil fuels, New Mexico continues to reap the benefits of oil and gas production, to the tune of $1.6 billion in new money. That’s the amount of dollars coming in for fiscal year 2023 over the expenses of this fiscal year, which ends June 30.
The debate over how cautious to be is playing out in talks about the state’s public education.
As the single-largest item in New Mexico’s state budget, public education commands a central role in every legislative session.
This year is no different, except perhaps in the size of the windfall New Mexico is experiencing and how much cash Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and the Legislature want to give public schools and classroom teachers.
The Legislature’s budget arm, the Legislative Finance Committee, proposes spending $421 million more — 12% — over this fiscal year. The governor is in the same vicinity.
Part of the reason for the intense focus is the state’s continuing attempt to right generational education inequities identified in a 2018 landmark court ruling that found New Mexico guilty of violating its responsibility to educate all children equitably.
That generational inequity has contributed to differing education outcomes for groups of students by race or ethnicity, with fewer non-white students graduating than their White peers and performing poorer in reading and math proficiency. A consensus has emerged in recent years among policy makers that more should be spent to address these inequities.
On an afternoon in June, neighbors walked the grass loop of Albuquerque’s 4-H park as kids chased underneath a metal sculpture and stepped on a marker that hints of the unmarked grave site below for students at the old Albuquerque Indian School who died more than 100 years ago. Draped on a solitary tree nearby were orange tapestries, part of a community-built memorial dedicated to the gravesite near the former site of the Albuquerque Indian School. It went up after someone noticed a plaque missing that commemorated the cemetery for Zuni, Navajo and Apache students buried there between 1882 and 1933. How the plaque went missing is a mystery, and its absence might have escaped notice a few years ago.
But a discovery in May of 215 unmarked graves at an Indian boarding school in southern British Columbia has sparked heightened awareness of the history and legacy of boarding schools in the United States.
U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland announced in late June the agency would investigate the extent to which there was loss of human life in this country and the lasting consequences of boarding schools. The federal government, beginning in the late 1800s, took Indian children from their families in an effort to strip them of their cultures and language.
This story is part of a collaborative reporting project including New Mexico In Depth called “Lesson Plans: Rural schools grapple with COVID-19”. Andy and Amy Jo Hellenbrand live on a little farm in south-central Wisconsin where they raise corn, soybeans, wheat, heifers, chickens, goats, bunnies, and their four children, ages 5 to 12. For the entire fall semester, the quartet of grade school students learned virtually from home, as their district elected to keep school buildings closed. That has put a strain on the family, as well as the childrens’ grades and grammar. “I definitely feel like they’re falling behind,” said Amy Jo Hellenbrand.
One day when Alexandra Romero was around three years old, she was at her grandparents’ Santa Fe home with her older cousins when they began to quarrel with her and locked her outside. The adults were occupied so no one noticed the little girl let herself out of the yard and wander down West Alameda on foot, with traffic speeding by. She had covered several blocks when she startled a couple of pedestrians, who asked if she was lost. “No,” she replied confidently, “I know where I’m going.”
Now 27, Romero laughs as she recounts that bit of family lore. She can’t recall her intended destination that night, and maybe she didn’t really have one.
Sitting in a spacious home in the Las Alturas neighborhood of Las Cruces, Julia Palomino pours herself a cup of tea.
Las Alturas, which means “the heights” in Spanish, has a commanding view of the Organ Mountains of southern New Mexico. Nearby are desert trails and seeing quail roam near pools in backyards isn’t that uncommon.
As bucolic as her life can seem, Julia is moving into an apartment in town this month with a high school friend. “I’m 26 and living with my parents, so it’s kind of sad,” Julia said.