From teacher salaries to a multicultural education framework, legislation seeks to improve New Mexico’s education system

SANTA FE, NEW MEXICO—Several of the court-mandated remedies to fix the New Mexico education system were discussed at a press event on Monday in the Roundhouse Rotunda, where legislators, students, parents, and lawsuit plaintiffs explained precisely what is necessary to ensure that students’ constitutional right to a quality education is no longer violated.

The remedies include a multicultural education framework, improved bilingual and English language learner programming, universal and quality full-day pre-kindergarten, sufficient access to extended learning opportunities like summer school and after school programming, social services, smaller class sizes, and increased teacher pay and support to recruit and retain high-quality educators.

“These aren’t pie-in-the-sky wishes from concerned parents—we’re working with legislators on bills that represent the minimum fixes needed to meet the court’s order and the rights of our students,” said Victoria Tafoya, Director of the New Mexico Association for Bilingual Education and spokesperson for the Transform Education NM Coalition. “We have a unique opportunity to give all of our students across the state the chance to succeed, and that’s what these pieces of legislation aim to do.”

Proposed legislation for 2019 is based on the Transform Education NM Platform, a comprehensive  blueprint for action to fix New Mexico’s schools. Based on the input of 300+ diverse community stakeholders and two million pages of documentation and expert testimony of educators, economists, and academic researchers as part of the Yazzie/Martinez trial, the platform is the roadmap to successfully transforming the state’s education system.

“Teachers are the heart of education,” said Representative Sheryl Williams Stapleton, Majority Floor Leader of the New Mexico House and sponsor of HB 171, which raises the minimum wage for teachers. “We have among the lowest teacher wages in the country, and one of the highest turnover rates. To be competitive with surrounding states, and to be compliant with the court order, teacher salaries must be increased and must be adjusted yearly for inflation.”

Representative Tomás E. Salazar is sponsoring HB 111, HB 120, and HB 159 to ensure a multicultural, bilingual framework is at the core of the education system. “The bills sponsored by myself and my fellow legislators align to an overall platform that was developed by teachers, superintendents, parents, tribal education experts, and many others. For the first time, we’ve really listened to New Mexicans on what we need to redesign the education system here. We have the knowledge and expertise, and I’m proud to carry these bills.”

Although 76 percent of New Mexico public school students are culturally and linguistically diverse, the court found that the State is violating New Mexico laws that require a multicultural and bilingual framework for New Mexico’s schools. Multiculturalism and bilingualism must be reflected in curriculum, teacher development and in building pathways for teachers.

“As an immigrant, I believe we should be valuing our diversity and seeing it as a strength,” said Michelle Soto, a high school student and member of the New Mexico Dream Team who spoke at the event. “We know that students who are more connected to their culture and community do better in school and we need to strengthen the power of that connection. We can no longer leave some of our students behind.”

Education funding in New Mexico is closely tied to the oil and gas industry, and thereby dependent on the price of oil. While the industry is doing well, and the state legislature is currently operating with a budget surplus, the tax revenue that supports our schools is volatile.

“Big change requires a big investment, and a big investment is what we need to build a world-class education system,” said James Jimenez, Executive Director of New Mexico Voices for Children and former Cabinet Secretary of the Department of Finance and Administration. “Education in New Mexico has been underfunded for decades. We need to ensure that our schools are sufficiently-resourced to comply with the court’s order, and we need to be certain those resources are sustainable. We need to get off the oil and gas boom-to-bust roller coaster. Legislators need to look at our tax system and make sure it is fair for working families and that our revenue system is stable and sustainable.”

Transform Education NM’s platform and factsheets on the coalition’s legislation can be found here:  http://nmpovertylaw.org/our-work/education/

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Transform Education NM is a coalition of educational leaders, families, tribal leaders, and the lawsuit plaintiffs working to transform the state’s education system for our students.