Tribal Remedy Framework boosted with funding

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.

New Mexico has opportunity to learn what works best from two years of extraordinary innovation

The 2022 regular legislative session will be the second under the persistent shadow of COVID-19. For those of us who focus on child and family well-being, the situation is simultaneously dire and hopeful. The dire: Families with children, especially those with lower incomes, have been slammed by the simultaneous impacts of school and child care closures, job losses, and the anxiety and grief that have characterized this time for many. 

The hopeful: The sudden loss of in-person schooling and child care has renewed public focus on the importance of these sectors. States have received federal funding to stabilize them from the impacts of COVID, allowing new resources to flow into schools, child care, internet connectivity and other longstanding needs. 

During the session and in the coming year, our team at the University of New Mexico Cradle to Career Policy Institute will watch to see what New Mexico decides to keep from the pandemic, and what the state casts aside. In our policy and personal lives, the pandemic has offered a complex mix of things we are eager to lose forever, alongside those we hope to maintain. 

In the child care sector, COVID-19 has brought great instability for providers faced with decreased enrollment, family and provider fears about COVID exposure, and unpredictable closures and quarantines.

Historic revenue boosts public education dollars, but deep challenges remain

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.

Why New Mexico must adopt a tribal remedy framework for public education

When recent high school graduate Chaslyn Tafoya of Taos Pueblo was asked in a public forum with New Mexico’s education secretary what she loved most about where she called home, she pointed to her culture, her language, and her tribal community. When asked what threatened what she loved most, she replied, “public education.” 

Her response echoed the verdict issued by New Mexico’s First Judicial District Court in its 2018 Yazzie/Martinez ruling: Indigenous students “will be irreparably harmed” if the State does not enact a comprehensive overhaul of public education. The Court ordered the State to implement the New Mexico Indian Education Act of 2003, which requires the New Mexico Public Education Department to collaborate with Tribes in providing a culturally and linguistically relevant education to Native students. 

Public education has long posed an existential threat to our Native children and to the cultural survival of Indigenous peoples. The recent discovery of mass graves at Indian boarding schools exposes only the most egregious atrocities committed in the name of Western education. After boarding schools came the forced integration of Native children into public schools.

A historic year, learning loss threatens recent educational gains

Even by the most optimistic standards, the logistics of learning in 2020 have been difficult, if not close to impossible, for a significant number of New Mexico students. Technological challenges have combined with trauma caused by COVID-19’s deadly rampage through hard-hit populations, especially the state’s Indigenous communities, to disrupt classrooms and educational plans. More than 32,000 students — or one of every 10 enrolled in public education statewide — have been referred to a state-sponsored coaching program, many for being disengaged, regularly missing classes, or in danger of failing one or more classes. Less than a quarter are participating, however. And more than half of those, or 5,173 students, are in need of the most help, according to the state education officials, meaning they endure significant on-going barriers and are receiving regular interventions, sometimes daily.Public Education Secretary Ryan Stewart and his staff didn’t mince words about the severity of the challenge in a December presentation of the education agency’s 2022 budgetary request to state lawmakers. 

Learning losses caused by the pandemic — particularly for at-risk students, which make up a majority of New Mexico’s student population — will likely weaken already low student outcomes, according to the 13-page memo.“Additionally, school closures and remote learning have had a dramatic impact on enrollment in many school districts, leading some school district leaders to worry about the pandemic’s impact on their school district’s finances,” they added.The state education agency went on to ask the legislators for $4 million in emergency funds, citing the possible need for additional grants in light of enrollment shifts in school districts and increased costs related to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Is push for education equity at risk amid COVID-19 economic fallout?

Jasmine Yepa was happy with her daughters’ education at San Diego Riverside Charter School and Walatowa Headstart in Jemez Pueblo.Certified education assistants speak Towa, the Pueblo’s traditional language, with students while teachers build lesson plans in English. The education assistants also translate English lesson plans into Towa, giving children additional opportunities to hear and speak the language in a classroom setting.  

Through her work at the Native American Budget and Policy Institute, Yepa understands the importance of her daughters learning their culture and language to dilute what she calls a “white washed system” that assimilates non-white students into American culture. “Celebrating multiculturalism and multilingualism should help foster appreciation of diversity and foster respect for people’s differences,” she said. “It’s something that all policy makers should understand. Language and culture plays a huge role in not only maintaining our cultural way of life but also our core values.”

Then COVID-19 struck.

For some Native college students, online classes could be a deal breaker

Antennas and a satellite dish search for a signal on top of a house in rural Vanderwagen, NM, where there is not high-speed fiber or cable internet. Marjorie Childress/New Mexico In Depth

When the University of New Mexico announced March 19 that all spring semester classes would move online and all students should move out of the dorms, 21-year-old communications major Hannah John went home. But she couldn’t stay long. Tall Ponderosa pines are the major architectural feature of Vanderwagen, population 1,700. Sandwiched between the Navajo Nation and Zuni Pueblo along New Mexico’s western border, it’s about half an hour away from Wingate High School, a Bureau of Indian Education school, where John’s parents teach.

Santa Fe Indian School pivots to offline learning to ensure access during COVID-19 pandemic

The Santa Fe Indian School campus, photographed this fall, has been closed for the pandemic. Faith Rosetta/SFIS

For their first online assignment, five of Jennifer Guerin’s 15 students in library science submitted homework. She expected it. Library science is an elective at the Santa Fe Indian School and Guerin had encouraged her students to focus on core classes, but the low turnout signaled that a shift to online learning might not work. Even with Chromebooks or laptops sent home with students, teachers had noted about a third of their students weren’t participating in online sessions.

Summit takes stock of education gains, goals for Doña Ana County

It’s been five years since the Success Partnership convened its first summit to create goals for “cradle to career” education in Doña Ana County. A lot has changed since then. Ngage New Mexico, an education-focused community organization that created the Success Partnership and organized a follow up summit Monday at New Mexico State University, wanted to put the changes in perspective with a comprehensive look at education data over that period from home visiting and preK to college and workforce training. Since 2015, Las Cruces Public Schools started its first community school to bring social services and after school programs to students and on Saturday the district will inaugurate three more. Graduation rates jumped at two of the county’s school districts, from 75% in 2015 to 86% in 2019 at LCPS, and 67% to 77% at Hatch Valley Schools, while inching up at Gadsden from 81% to 82%. 

The all-day gathering was part pep rally to celebrate successes, part tough talk about bumps in the road to better education results and part brainstorming session to chart the course ahead.  

Lori Martinez, executive director of Ngage NM, an education nonprofit based in Las Cruces.