Court orders state to provide students the technology they need

SANTA FE—First Judicial District Court Judge Matthew Wilson ordered the state to provide computers and high-speed internet access to the thousands of “at-risk” students who lack these necessary tools to access remote learning now and post pandemic. The ruling came during a hearing in the landmark Yazzie/Martinez education case on a Yazzie plaintiff motion addressing technology gaps among the state’s students.

At the hearing, Judge Wilson said, “The court ruled that defendants must comply with their duty to provide an adequate education and may not conserve financial resources at the expense of our constitution.” 

Wilson added, “Children who are lacking access to internet and technology for remote learning are not getting much of an education, if at all, let alone one that is sufficient to make them college and career ready.”

“Lack of access has been catastrophic for far too many New Mexican families because of the state’s failure to address the technology gaps, especially for Native students and students living in rural areas,” said Preston Sanchez an attorney representing the Yazzie plaintiffs who argued the plaintiffs’ motion in court today. “Thousands of students are being denied their constitutionally required education sufficient to become college and career ready. Many are getting no education at all. The state has to be accountable to New Mexico’s students and families and make access to their education a priority.”

The court ordered the state to immediately:

  • Determine which at-risk students and their teachers do not have a dedicated digital device and immediately provide one or ensure that one is provided to each of these students and their teachers. 
  • Determine which at-risk students do not have access to high-speed internet that will allow them to work from home and immediately provide them with access to a high-speed service and when necessary, transportation to access it.
  • Provide school districts with funding for sufficient qualified IT staff to support and maintain digital devices, cellular hotspots, and community Wi-Fi locations, and other remote learning needs.

In 2018, in the Yazzie/Martinez v. State of New Mexico lawsuit, the court ordered the state to provide a sufficient education to all public school students. The state was required to immediately direct resources to remedy the failures in its education system, because the court recognized students—especially Native students, English language learners, students from low-income families, and students with disabilities—would be irreparably harmed if the state did not act swiftly.

The court noted that access to technology, including computers and related infrastructure, is essential to a sufficient education.

“This is a great day for New Mexico’s children,” said Melissa Candelaria, a senior attorney at the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty, which represents the Yazzie plaintiffs. “The judge’s ruling comes as a huge relief to so many families. Our children deserve a gold standard education but they cannot even participate in school without access to technology. Many students are not back at school and internet services are unavailable, especially in rural districts and districts serving predominantly Native American students. Even when students come back into the physical classroom, technology will continue to be a necessity.” 

According to the PED, nearly 50 percent of public school students will continue remote learning for the remainder of the school year. Many Native American students will continue remote learning per tribal public health orders to keep their communities safe.

An estimated 23 percent of the New Mexico population lack broadband internet service. An estimated 80 percent of Native Americans living on tribal lands in New Mexico do not have internet services at all.       

“There are far too many students in New Mexico who have not had access to education for an entire year,” said Alisa Diehl, a senior attorney with the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty. “It is simply unacceptable that the state allow them to continue to fall even further behind. The state needs to take action immediately to make sure New Mexico’s students get the education they need and deserve.”

A video on the difficulties New Mexico students have accessing education because of technology can be found here: https://youtu.be/H-i7JW7xKLg

The motion can be found here: http://nmpovertylaw.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/Yazzie-Tech-Motion-With-Exhibits-1-6-Final.2020-12-15.pdf

New exhibits from the Yazzie plaintiffs can be found here:
http://nmpovertylaw.org/yazzie-notice-of-additional-exhibits-with-exhibits/

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

Settlement agreement ensures child care assistance is more accessible to NM families

ALBUQUERQUE—Today, the New Mexico Early Childhood Education and Care Department and several New Mexican parents and OLÉ—a non-profit, grassroots member organization of working families—announced that they have come to a settlement agreement that will expand access to the state’s child care assistance program and require it to be more responsive to parents’ needs. The parents and OLÉ are represented by the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty.                                  

The settlement agreement resolves a 2018 lawsuit filed during the previous administration that alleged the New Mexico Children Youth and Families Department, which then housed child care assistance services, was denying child care assistance to eligible families.      

CYFD and plaintiffs began the process of addressing the issues raised in the lawsuit and entered into an initial settlement agreement in spring 2019. After Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham and the New Mexico State Legislature created the Early Childhood Education and Care Department in 2019, the Child Care Services Bureau was consolidated along with all other early childhood programs into the new department. ECECD became the responding agency to the lawsuit following the department’s official launch in July 2020 and has committed to working with NMCLP and OLÉ to fully address the issues identified in families’ lawsuit.

“This settlement reflects the child care system that parents are building with Secretary Groginsky for all New Mexicans,” said Alma Martell, a parent leader from OLÉ.  “It makes an early education more affordable to more parents and makes the process of getting state assistance to pay for preschool much easier, kinder, and more like what we expect of a high-quality early education system.”

“It’s clear that Secretary Groginsky and the department are committed to expanding access and making child care assistance work for New Mexican families,” said Tim Davis, an attorney at the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty. “The department has sought out and listened carefully to parents, and the improvements to the program reflect that collaboration and the reality of working families. The department has made changes that are truly groundbreaking and acknowledge that quality affordable child care is a bridge to opportunity for families and their children.” 

“ECECD is committed to ensuring that every eligible family in New Mexico can receive child care assistance in a fair, equitable, and transparent manner,” said ECECD Secretary Elizabeth Groginsky. “Access to high quality early childhood education is critical to the development of our young children and vital to the economic stability of our families. In the nine months since our department officially launched, we have worked to change regulations to make it easier for families to apply for assistance, waived all parent co-pays until July 2022, and continue to seek ways to expand eligibility for child care assistance for families in our state.” 

The terms outlined in the settlement agreement include:

  • Maintaining eligibility for families with incomes at or below 250% of the federal poverty level unless the department reduces eligibility through a rulemaking process with public input.
  • By August 2021, or sooner, ECECD will ensure that participating families know when and why a change is made to their child care assistance case. Notices will also clearly explain why child care assistance is denied or terminated and will provide information on how to appeal the decision. ECECD has already taken major steps to comply with this requirement.
  • By December 31, 2021, ECECD will make the final updates to its child care assistance regulations so families receive correct information about their benefits during the application process, which will increase access to child care with minimal administrative burdens.
  • ECECD will train all staff on the changes and the changes to the notices, which has already begun and will continue as ECECD fulfills its obligations under the settlement.
  • For three years, ECECD will hold meetings with participating families and follow up meetings with the plaintiffs to discuss the feedback, and any potential remedial next steps.     
  • ECECD will not be required to pay any attorney fees, so long as it remains compliant with the terms of the settlement.

The settlement agreement builds upon other recent important changes that ECECD made to the child care assistance program that expand access, including giving benefits to parents looking for work, streamlining income determinations, increasing eligibility to families with incomes up to 250% of the federal poverty level, ending the exclusion of graduate students, and no longer forcing parents to pursue child support from an absent parent in order to qualify for assistance.

Currently one-in-three New Mexican families qualify for free or reduced child care tuition through ECECD’s child care assistance services. Families can learn about eligibility and apply for assistance at: https://eligibility.ececd.state.nm.us/eligibility/public/home.page?dswid=-4195

The settlement agreement can be found here: http://nmpovertylaw.org/torres-v-jacobson-proposed-second-amended-stipulated-order-2021-04-22/

New Mexico workers celebrate paid sick leave victory

SANTA FE, NM—After six years of organizing efforts, workers and advocates celebrate Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s signing of the Healthy Workplaces Act into law today. Effective July 1, 2022, workers statewide will be able to accrue one hour of paid leave for every 30 hours worked and up to 64 hours annually. 

The paid sick leave coalition thanks the sponsors of the bill, Reps. Angelica Rubio, Christine Chandler and Patricia Roybal Caballero and Sens. Mimi Stewart and Linda Lopez, for being true champions for New Mexico workers, and Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham for her support. 

Workers have been fighting for this legislation for years, sharing personal stories with lawmakers about being forced to go to work sick or risk losing their paycheck. As a result of this tireless work, paid sick leave is finally a reality and will benefit all of New Mexico’s families and communities. This big win illustrates how critical it is for legislators to hear from New Mexicans—the people who stock groceries, care for others’ children, harvest and serve food and keep our communities going throughout the pandemic. New Mexico workers showed up and made their voices heard. 

This statement is signed by the following: 

  • AARP NM
  • NM Comunidades en Acción y de Fe (CAFe)
  • Center for Civic Policy
  • El CENTRO de Igualdad y Derechos
  • Enlace Comunitario
  • Equality New Mexico
  • National Union of Hospital and Health Care Employees District 1199NM
  • New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty
  • New Mexico Working Families Party
  • New Mexico Voices for Children
  • OLÉ, Organizers in the Land of Enchantment
  • Somos un Pueblo Unido
  • United Food Workers of America Local 1564
  • Women Food & Agricultural Network

Statements from workers and organizations across New Mexico:

Carissa Owen, Restaurant worker and NM CAFe leader, (Las Cruces, NM)
“Paid sick leave is long overdue for New Mexico workers. I have seen restaurants fund expansions, marketing, or new concept rollout instead of investments in their biggest assets: their trained and dedicated workforce. This legislation is necessary for the restaurant industry to take employee health seriously.”

Rosa del Carpio, Worker and El Centro de Igualdad y Derechos member, (Albuquerque, NM)
“I have been working in Albuquerque for almost 15 years without access to paid sick leave. I tested positive for Covid-19 after having to risk going to work to put food on the table. I was worried about getting tested in the first place for fear that a positive test result would force me to quarantine without any income in order to survive. What I feared most as a single mother was infecting my nine-year-old son. Thousands of workers around New Mexico find themselves in situations similar to mine. Having access to paid sick leave is not only a racial justice issue: it will save the lives of workers and families in our communities.”

Marshall Martinez, Director of Equality New Mexico (Albuquerque, NM)
“Paid sick leave is critical for LGBTQ New Mexicans. Queer and Trans people work hourly jobs disproportionately and already face extreme systemic barriers to healthcare. HB 20 helps with one of those barriers and will help provide LGBTQ New Mexicans the opportunity to be able to afford the time off to see our healthcare providers.”

Stephanie Welch, Director of Workers’ Rights at the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty (Albuquerque, NM)
“No one should have to choose between a paycheck and protecting their and their loved ones’ health. Yet half of New Mexicans who work for private employers have to do exactly that because their employer does not provide paid sick leave. This law will ensure that workers get this basic right. We thank the workers from across the state who spoke out and advocated to legislators, and who won this victory.”

Anamaria Dahle, NM Working Families Party member, (Albuquerque, NM)
“Earning paid sick leave will allow me to obtain treatment to heal my injuries inflicted by my ex-husband over a decade ago. I will also be able to keep up with my doctors’ appointments for my autoimmune disease. So often, single parents’ health is put on the back burner. Thank you for passing HB 20.”

Iman Andrade, OLÉ member, (Albuquerque, NM)
“For me, winning paid sick leave means a safer workplace for me and my coworkers. This means people can actually stay home if they have COVID and not spread it to others. Workers need paid sick leave regardless if there is a pandemic. We can keep people safe from spreading colds and flus, especially in the restaurant and grocery industry. Our workforce is going to be much safer and I am so excited that HB 20 has passed the Senate.”

Bellanira Lozano, Somos Un Pueblo Unido member, (Santa Fe, NM)
“I am a single mother of four children and a domestic worker who takes care of elderly people in Santa Fe. The pandemic hit my family hard. We all got sick and didn’t get paid. This law means families like mine won’t have to decide between getting paid or going to work sick. It’s a tremendous victory for New Mexico’s workers.”

Oriana Sandoval, CEO of Center for Civic Policy, (Albuquerque, NM)
“Today we celebrate the passage of House Bill 20–a statewide Paid Sick Leave program for New Mexico workers. This legislation sends a clear message that families shouldn’t have to worry about shattering their family budget and getting buried under healthcare costs because they can’t afford to lose a day’s pay. We look forward to Gov. Michelle Luján Grisham signing this bold policy into law to take a step forward in ensuring New Mexicans have access to every resource they need to overcome the current pandemic and regain their stability–ensuring the success of our children and future generations.”

James Jimenez, Executive Director of New Mexico Voices for Children (Albuquerque, NM)
“Paid sick leave has long been a missing piece of the child well-being puzzle in New Mexico, with about half of our workforce lacking this basic benefit. The COVID-19 crisis has made this need even more critical, as families have suffered with the health impacts and the loss of job security and wages. The passage of this bill is a watershed moment for kids in our state and will go far in ensuring New Mexico parents and their families have the opportunity to live healthy lives and continue to contribute to a strong recovery. We applaud the Legislature for boldly rising to the greatest challenge of our time to secure this long-needed policy that will benefit the health and economy of our state.”