Yazzie/Martinez education lawsuit moves forward!

SANTA FE—First Judicial District Court Judge Matthew Wilson denied the State of New Mexico’s motion to dismiss the landmark Yazzie/Martinez ruling today, which found that the state was violating the public school students’ right to a sufficient education. The judge noted that the state, by its own admission, is not fulfilling its constitutional duty to provide a sufficient education to all students.

The judge stated, “The state cannot be deemed to have complied with this court’s order until it shows that the necessary programs and reforms are being provided to all at risk students to ensure that they have the opportunity to be college and career ready. There is a lack of evidence in this case that the defendants have substantially satisfied this court’s express orders regarding all at risk students. The court’s injunction requires comprehensive educational reform that demonstrates substantial improvement of student outcomes so that students are actually college and career ready.”

The judge continued, “The court agrees with the plaintiffs’ counsel that to dismiss this action now while implementation and compliance are merely in their initial stages would undermine the years of work by this court and the parties and leave the children of New Mexico in an educational system that may be below constitutional standards.”

The judge also stated that “the court will maintain jurisdiction in this case until defendants have actually overhauled the system and complied with the constitutional requirements.” 

In reaction to the decision today, Wilhelmina Yazzie, a plaintiff in the Yazzie lawsuit said “In our culture, children are sacred, and I’m overjoyed that the fight for their education will go on. Even before the pandemic, our schools were not getting what they needed. There weren’t enough books to go around then and now it’s even worse. Our teachers are doing all they can, but they can’t even reach all their students because so many families, especially those that live in rural areas, don’t have internet access. Unfortunately, we just can’t trust the state to do the right thing without the court intervening.” 

Yazzie continued, “It’s time for our leaders to be courageous and make real changes for our kids. All across the country, people are standing up against the inequities caused by hundreds of years of systemic racism. It’s time for our state to stop fighting the lawsuit and instead address the inequities in our schools.”

Judge Wilson approved a motion from the Martinez plaintiffs that allows time for discovery of evidence to investigate the state’s compliance with the court ruling.

Yazzie plaintiffs also asked the court at the hearing to order the state to develop a comprehensive plan to overhaul the public education system. The judge decided not to order a plan now and will wait to entertain the motion until after discovery is completed and more information is available. 

In 2018, the court ordered the state to provide educational programs, services, and funding to schools to prepare students so they are college and career ready. In October 2019, the Yazzie Plaintiffs filed a motion asking the court to order the state to develop a plan to come into compliance with the court’s ruling. In March 2020, the state filed a motion asking the court to dismiss the Yazzie/Martinez v. State of New Mexico lawsuit. The Yazzie case was brought on behalf of families and six school districts. 

Almost two years have passed since the landmark court ruling but very little has changed for students and families at the heart of the case – low-income families, students with disabilities, English language learners, and Native American students, who collectively make up roughly 80% of the New Mexico student population.

In their motion for a compliance plan the Yazzie plaintiffs provided the court evidence that almost two years after the court’s ruling students still lack access to technology and culturally relevant materials; thousands of English language learners lack certified teachers; extended learning and summer school still is not available for all students who need these programs; more than 25,000 three- and four-year-olds still don’t have access to quality Pre-K; and the state still fails to fund or implement the Bilingual Multicultural Education Act (1973), the Indian Education Act (2003), or the Hispanic Education Act (2010).

“We are relieved that the case will continue. Education costs a lot more during a health crisis. We didn’t have the support we needed before COVID-19, but now we really are in crisis,” said Mike Hyatt, Superintendent of Gallup McKinley County Schools. “Without question, student learning in our district, which is predominantly Native American, and across New Mexico will suffer this coming year because the state is not funding school districts based on our needs.”

The state’s motion to dismiss the case argued that the court should trust the state government, legislators, and the governor to fix the school system. Yazzie plaintiffs argued that politics have failed our children for many years and the state continues to violate the law even after three legislative sessions since the landmark court ruling. 

At the recent special session, the legislature passed a budget that underfunds education overall and will force schools to choose between spending on necessary changes to keep kids safe and able to continue learning during the COVID-19 pandemic or basic things like instructional materials and adequate salaries for educators. The federal CARES Act money will not cover all the COVID-related costs such as protective equipment for staff and students, reconfiguring bathrooms, ensuring more teaching staff in school, and online instruction, yet the legislature wants it to also be used for basic education programs.

“The pandemic is compounding deep and ongoing educational inequities that are a direct result of decades of complacency by the state that continued even after the court ruling,” said Preston Sanchez, an attorney with ACLU-NM working in cooperation with New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty that represents the Yazzie plaintiffs. (Sanchez was formerly staff with the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty when the litigation began). “Now more than ever, it’s important that the court continues to ensure the state is accountable to New Mexico’s students and families.”

A few days ago, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, released its annual report on child well being: New Mexico again ranks last.  

The Yazzie plaintiffs’ response brief with exhibits—including declarations in opposition to State of New Mexico’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit by the All Pueblo Council of Governors, Mescalero Apache Tribe, Navajo Nation’s Department of Dine Education, and Jicarilla Apache Nation (Exhibits A-D, pages 48-55)—can be found here: http://nmpovertylaw.org/yazzie-plaintiffs-response-states-mtd-with-exhibits-a-j-2020-05-01/

The February 2019 final judgment and order in the lawsuit can be found here: http://nmpovertylaw.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/D-101-CV-2014-00793-Final-Judgment-and-Order-NCJ-1.pdf

Hearing on Yazzie/Martinez education lawsuit to take place Monday

Plaintiffs will argue continued court oversight is necessary

SANTA FE—On Monday, June 29, in a video court hearing, Yazzie plaintiffs will argue that it is critical the court continue to hold the state accountable to the landmark 2018 court ruling that found the state was violating students’ rights to a sufficient education. They will also argue that the State of New Mexico should be required to develop a comprehensive plan to overhaul the public education system.

The hearing will be before Judge Matthew Wilson of the First Judicial District Court. 

The state filed a motion to dismiss the case in March even though, by its own admission, the state is not fulfilling its constitutional duty to provide a sufficient education to all students.

WHAT:
Hearing on plaintiff and defendant motions in Yazzie/Martinez v. State of New Mexico 


WHO:

  • Judge Matthew Wilson
  • Counsel for Yazzie plaintiffs, New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty cooperating attorneys 
  • Counsel for Martinez plaintiffs, Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF) attorneys
  • Counsel for the State of New Mexico

WHEN: 
Monday, June 29, 2020, 1:00 – 5:00 p.m.

REMOTE ACCESS TO COURT PROCEEDINGS:
Because of the COVID-19 health crisis, in person viewing of the hearing is not available. 

Access by telephone:

  • 1-316-536-0667
  • Pin:  956818702#

Access by video: 

The Yazzie plaintiffs’ reply brief with exhibits—including declarations in opposition to State of New Mexico’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit by the All Pueblo Council of Governors, Mescalero Apache Tribe, Navajo Nation’s Department of Dine Education, and Jicarilla Apache Nation (Exhibits A-D, pages 48-55)—can be found here: http://nmpovertylaw.org/yazzie-plaintiffs-response-states-mtd-with-exhibits-a-j-2020-05-01/

The final ruling in the lawsuit can be found here: http://nmpovertylaw.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/D-101-CV-2014-00793-Final-Judgment-and-Order-NCJ-1.pdf

URGENT ACTION ALERT: Ask the governor to create rent relief fund to prevent homelessness!

To prevent a dramatic rise in homelessness as New Mexico navigates the COVID-19 crisis and its economic aftermath, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham must prioritize housing relief, including legislation creating a rent relief fund and protections for renters in the upcoming special session this week. Legislative leaders have worked diligently on a crucial housing protection and rent relief package for New Mexico, but the Legislature cannot hear it unless the governor puts the legislation on her agenda.  

New Mexico received hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funds to support New Mexicans impacted by the COVID-19 crisis. These funds should be used to prevent a housing crisis in New Mexico.

Call the governor at (505) 476-2200 before Wednesday, June 17 and ask her to create a rent relief fund and put housing protections on the agenda for the special session! You will only be able to leave a short, simple message on the phone with one or two points, but you can also email the Governor at this link with more extensive comments.

Information to consider including in your message to the governor about this important issue:

  • All New Mexicans deserve access to safe and stable housing, and especially during a pandemic. 
  • Right now, thousands of families in our state can’t pay rent because of the pandemic-related economic downturn. 
  • New Mexico was already struggling with a housing crisis before the COVID-19 pandemic, and our communities cannot afford for this problem to get any worse. 
  • As current eviction protections and unemployment begin to end this summer, we need the state, through the Governor and the Legislature, to act to mitigate the financial devastation for families and prevent a dramatic rise in homelessness. 
  • If the state does not act in the special session, many New Mexican families will become homeless in the coming months. 
  • A sharp increase in homelessness will be devastating not only for families across our state, but entire communities, and our state and local economies for years to come. 
  • Please utilize federal CARES Act dollars to create a statewide rent relief fund. 
  • Please support meaningful legislation in the Special Session to repeal the antiquated statewide rent control ban and give the Governor the power to institute a statewide emergency eviction moratorium.  

Groups ask governor for rent relief fund to prevent homelessness

Thousands of New Mexicans can’t pay rent due to pandemic-related economic downturn 

ALBUQUERQUE—To prevent a dramatic spike in homelessness as New Mexico navigates the COVID-19 crisis and its economic aftermath, social justice and housing organizations asked Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham this week to prioritize legislation creating a rent relief fund at the upcoming special session. Their letter also asks her to support a legislative moratorium on evictions and expanded protections for low-income homeowners.  

“If we don’t get some help with rent soon, I don’t know what’s going to happen to me and my family,” said Allyssa Garcia who lives in Albuquerque. “I’ve worked hard my whole life, but I have lupus, which puts me at high risk of getting the virus. I had to cut my hours back. My daughter, who has a heart defect, lost her disability for awhile. I had to appeal to the Social Security Administration to get it back. There just hasn’t been enough money to pay rent. Now my landlord has evicted me. They can’t force me to move out right now because of the health emergency, but once things open up, my three children and I might find ourselves on the street.”

New Mexico was already struggling with a crippling housing crisis before the health pandemic. In 2019, the state experienced the highest increase in chronic homelessness in the nation–up 57.6% since 2018. The most recent data from the Mortgage Finance Authority shows that 50% of New Mexico’s renters are housing cost burdened, meaning they spend upwards of 30% of their income on housing costs.  

Housing relief programs like the one the New Mexico advocates are calling for have already been established across the country to support local recovery. 

“Everyone deserves access to safe, stable housing, especially during a pandemic,” said Maria Griego, director of Economic Equity at the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty. “Unfortunately, temporary Supreme Court rules and federal moratoria only postpone evictions. While no one can be removed from their homes immediately, homelessness will increase as soon as the state of emergency ends.”

Griego added, “As New Mexico families face the COVID-19 crisis and its financial aftermath, including record levels of unemployment, we urge the state to actively respond to the real threat of a dramatic spike in homelessness and for the governor to put responsive legislation on her call at the special session.” 

“We need our elected officials to match the efforts of the people organizing on the ground,” said Tomás Rivera, executive director of Chainbreaker Collective. “Many people hardest hit by the pandemic live in neighborhoods already teetering on the edge of widespread displacement and gentrification. Without bold housing relief measures, the COVID-19 crisis may be the push that will tip whole neighborhoods over that edge. People will be forced into the street from neighborhoods where they have deep roots.” 

The groups and individuals that sent the letter to the governor include the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty, Chainbreaker Collective, ABC Community School Partnership, Albuquerque Health Care for the Homeless, Catholic Charities (Archdiocese of Santa Fe), Disability Rights New Mexico, Enlace Comunitario, Native American Disability Law Center, New Mexico Coalition to End Homelessness, Prosperity Works, Santa Fe Housing Action Coalition, Senior Citizens’ Law Office, Inc., United South Broadway Corporation, Elizabeth Elia, and Karen J. Meyers.

The letter to the governor can be found here: http://nmpovertylaw.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/Group-Letter-to-Governor-housing-relief.pdf