This article was produced for ProPublica’s Local Reporting Network in partnership with New Mexico In Depth. Sign up for Dispatches to get stories like this one as soon as they are published. And sign up here for journalism from New Mexico In Depth. New Mexico In Depth and ProPublica used data from the New Mexico Public Education Department to analyze student discipline rates across the state. The news outlets found that one district, Gallup-McKinley County Schools, played an outsized role in the disproportionate discipline of Native American students in the state. That district enrolls more Native students than any other public school district in the United States and a quarter of Native students in the state. Through public records requests, the news organizations obtained a spreadsheet of all disciplinary incidents reported by school districts to the state Public Education Department.
School districts across New Mexico are likely failing to accurately count the number of students experiencing homelessness, Dana Malone, coordinator for the state’s Education for Homeless Children and Youth Program, told New Mexico In Depth.
That failure means vulnerable children probably are missing out on crucial services and being denied educational rights they’re entitled to. Such undercounting is a nationwide trend, according to an analysis by the Center for Public Integrity that found schools don’t know about as many as 300,000 students who may meet the definition of homelessness established by the federal McKinney-Vento Homeless Act. Under McKinney-Vento, children and youth who lack a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence are defined as homeless, including those who are “doubled up,” or sharing another person’s housing due to a loss of housing or economic hardship.
The 1987 law guarantees those children a number of rights to help break down barriers to education, such as the right to remain at the school they were attending when they were stably housed and the right to transportation to and from school.
Critical to helping homeless students access the support they’re due are special school staff, called “liaisons,” that Malone trains and supports. Districts appoint the liasons, who identify and connect students with services. Funded by federal grants and other sources, the liaison positions are often part-time in small districts, but larger districts, like Albuquerque, have full-time staff dedicated to homeless students.
Malone is tasked with ensuring New Mexico’s 89 school districts and dozens of charter schools are in compliance with McKinney-Vento.
In the spring, Malone plans to begin monitoring a number of districts she suspects are undercounting students.
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.
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.
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.
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.