Landmark Education Trial Against State of New Mexico Ends

Families & School Districts Assert that Students’ Constitutional Rights are being Violated

SANTA FE, NM – Today marks the last day of testimony in an eight-week trial against the state of New Mexico, in a case that alleges the State has violated the constitutional rights of its public school students.

The consolidated lawsuit, which was filed by the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty (the Center) and MALDEF (Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund), claims that the State’s arbitrary and inadequate funding of public schools, and lack of necessary monitoring and oversight, deprives children—particularly low-income, Native American, and English language learner students—of a sufficient education, in violation of the New Mexico Constitution.

“It was very clear from the defense that the State is in denial about the educational crisis that New Mexico students face,” said Marisa Bono, MALDEF Southwest Regional Counsel. “We look forward to a ruling from the Court that will force the State to stop fiddling while Rome burns, and start providing equal educational opportunities to all students.”

Through the course of the trial, a number of respected national and state experts provided testimony about how New Mexico’s public school system is in crisis. They provided data about the State’s dismal education outcomes, most notably that three out of four students cannot read or write at grade level and two-thirds cannot do math at grade level, that graduation rates are among the lowest in the nation, and a majority of New Mexico graduates are not college and career ready.

“We heard from superintendents from across the state who testified that the lack of resources and quality programs available to schools is harming their students,” said Preston Sanchez, attorney at the Center. “They can’t afford the types of programs they know work, can’t purchase up to date materials and textbooks, can’t provide sufficient afterschool programs, teacher training and even buses.”

Educators and school leaders from across the State discussed the distinct needs of New Mexico’s large population of English language learners and the importance of expanded access to quality bilingual/multicultural education programs and properly trained teachers. PED’s own expert admitted that the State does not provide oversight or monitoring for thousands of English language learners in the State.

Witness testimony addressed the ways in which historical and current injustices have led to disparate outcomes for Native students and English language learner students. Expert witnesses reiterated the need for culturally and linguistically relevant programming as an evidence-based means to improve student performance.

Furthermore, testimony was offered about what steps should be taken to fundamentally improve academic outcomes and close the achievement gap. It was virtually undisputed that high quality preschool and extended learning opportunities like the K-3 Plus Program, which adds 25 more days to the school year for elementary school students, are necessary to ensure that that low income and ELL students start school ready, yet a majority of eligible children in the State do not have access to such programs. Others spoke to the importance of wraparound services in a high poverty state like New Mexico, such as access to social workers and counselors, tutors, and on campus healthcare services that are necessary to mitigate the impact of poverty on learning

Defense witnesses testified under cross examination that the state has made policy choices over the past decade that have benefited higher income New Mexicans and corporations and resulted in a loss of hundreds of millions of dollars in state revenue every year. Defense experts also acknowledged that students who attend high-poverty schools have less access to effective teachers, but the State has failed to provide adequate resources to provide the mentoring and training that teachers need to improve, and the proper compensation for effective teacher recruitment and retention strategies.

The Center’s lawsuit, Yazzie v. State of New Mexico, was filed in March 2014 on behalf of a group of families and school districts including Gallup-McKinley, Rio Rancho, Santa Fe, Cuba, Moriarty/Edgewood, and Lake Arthur. The families represented have children who are English language learners (ELL), Native American or economically disadvantaged and have been negatively impacted by the lack of resources provided to New Mexico public schools. (Click here for information on the case and plaintiff profiles).

The Martinez lawsuit was brought on behalf of parents and public school children from Española, Santa Fe, Albuquerque, Zuni, Magdalena, Las Cruces and Gadsden. It was filed in April 2014 by MALDEF following extensive discussions with community groups, local leaders, and parents in New Mexico concerning chronic achievement gaps on standardized tests and other systemic failures. State attorneys sought to dismiss the lawsuit, but the court denied the request and ruled for the first time in New Mexico’s history that education is a fundamental right. (Click here for a fact sheet on the case and a timeline of significant dates.)

The trial for the consolidated lawsuit began on June 12, 2017. It calls for the court to declare the current system of public education constitutionally insufficient, and order the state to provide the programming and resources necessary for all public school students to succeed, as well as ensure that funds are distributed equitably, including for economically disadvantaged and ELL students.

The Center’s legal counsel on the case include Gail Evans, Preston Sanchez, Lauren Winkler, and Christopher Sanchez of the Center along with co-counsel Daniel Yohalem and Mark D. Fine. MALDEF’s lead counsel is Marisa Bono, Southwest regional counsel, and legal counsel include staff attorneys Ernest Herrera and Jack Salmon; E. Martin Estrada, Nick Sidney and Jessica Baril with Munger, Tolles & Olson; Alejandra Avila of Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson, and David Garcia.

State District Court Judge Sarah Singleton has requested that parties submit post-trial briefing and is expected to make a ruling on the case this fall or winter.

###

The mission of the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty is to advance economic and social justice through education, advocacy, and litigation. The Center works with low-income New Mexicans to improve living conditions, increase opportunities, and protect the rights of people living in poverty. Underlying its mission is a vision of New Mexico without poverty, where all peoples’ basic human rights are met. For more information on the Yazzie lawsuit, including plaintiff profiles, please visit: http://nmpovertylaw.org/our-work/education-2/. For media inquiries, please contact Maria Archuleta at (505) 255-2840 or MariaA@nmpovertylaw.org.

Founded in 1968, MALDEF is the nation’s leading Latino legal civil rights organization. Often described as the “Latino Legal Voice for Civil Rights in America,” MALDEF promotes social change through advocacy, communications, community education and litigation in the areas of education, employment, immigrant rights and political access. For more information, on MALDEF, please visit: www.maldef.org. For media inquiries, please contact Tony Marcano at (213) 629-2512 ext. 128 or amarcano@maldef.org

Urgent Action Alert: Stop Damaging Fees for Our Families!

Governor Martinez and the Human Services Department (HSD) are moving forward on a proposal that would create unnecessary obstacles to healthcare by charging higher fees to patients that get Medicaid.

HSD’s proposal requires low-income patients be charged co-pays each time they receive medical care – including for prescriptions, surgeries and other doctor visits. The proposal specifically targets children in the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), working disabled individuals, and adults living near poverty, with co-pays that range anywhere from $2 to $8 for each prescription drug to $50 for hospital care. Co-pays for “non-preferred” prescriptions and “non-emergency” use of the emergency room are also proposed for all Medicaid patients regardless of income.

This idea was rejected by HSD’s own panel of stakeholders and experts last summer. It has also received strong criticism from various community organizations, healthcare provider associations, and patients through both written and public comment.

The proposal should be withdrawn because:

  • A wide body of research shows that co-pays, even in “nominal” amounts, prevent people from getting needed medical care.
  • Costs add up quickly for families and children with multiple health needs – especially for people with disabilities or chronic health conditions.
  • The costs often shift to healthcare providers that choose to treat patients when they cannot afford the co-pay.
  • Our healthcare system and state budget will see long-term negative effects due to increased administrative costs and increased use of more expensive healthcare services.

Please call and urge your networks to contact Governor Martinez – (505) 476-2200 – and tell her to stop the Medicaid co-pay proposal. We should be making Medicaid better, not creating barriers for our families to get the healthcare they need!

 

Kim Posich Memorial Celebration

Please join us to celebrate the life of Kim Posich at the Albuquerque Museum of Art and History. The memorial will be located in the courtyard of the museum. Light snacks and refreshments will be served.

Hosts: Gail Evans & Ruza Donohue

When: Friday, August 18th from 6:00 PM to 8:00 PM

Where: The Albuquerque Museum of Art and History 2000 Mountain Rd NW, Albuquerque, NM

 

Healthy Workforce ABQ Asks for Emergency Court Order to Prevent City from Using Illegal Ballot

Advocates Say Voters Deserve Fair Election on Earned Sick Days Question

ALBUQUERQUE, NM — Late Thursday, advocates for the passage of an earned sick leave law in the City of Albuquerque filed an emergency motion in Second Judicial District Court to prevent the City Clerk from using an illegal ballot for the October 3 election.

The Albuquerque City Council decided in a July 10 meeting to print the full text of the Healthy Workforce Ordinance (HWO) on the official ballot without a summary, and the City Clerk intends to print it in 7-point font. Healthy Workforce ABQ, OLÉ, and Albuquerque residents ask the court to ensure Albuquerque voters have a fair election by ordering the use of a ballot that they can read and understand.

“The city is attempting to block Albuquerque voters’ right to enact direct legislation,” said Elizabeth Wagoner, an attorney on the case from the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty. “The city government insists on a ballot that is misleading and confusing. We are asking the court to protect the integrity of the 2017 election.”

The emergency motion argues that because the full text of the Healthy Workforce Ordinance will only fit on the ballot in an illegible and illegally-small font size — approximately 7-point font — the City Clerk should place a legible summary on the ballot and provide a legible, large-text copy of the full ordinance in each voting booth so that voters can read both documents. The city uses the same practice for bond questions.

According to federal voting systems guidelines adopted in Section 1-9-14 of the New Mexico Election Code, election ballots must be printed at a minimum of 8.5-point font or larger to ensure that voters with poor vision can read their ballots.

In their July meeting, the City Council also voted to include an advisory question on the ballot that uses partisan language to advocate against the HWO. The emergency motion argues that this is illegal because the City Charter and the New Mexico Constitution do not permit the Council to use a deceptive workaround to defeat a ballot initiative they do not like. The advocates are also asking the court to order that ballot question to be removed.

The emergency motion can be found here.

What You Can Do to Stop the ACA Repeal

While efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA) briefly stalled last week, the Senate still plans to strip healthcare from millions of Americans and make disastrous cuts to Medicaid.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell wants to vote to move forward with repeal as early as TODAY!

This past Thursday, Senate Republicans released a revised version of their bill – the Better Care Reconciliation Act. According to the Congressional Budget Office, this revised version would still take away healthcare coverage from 22 million Americans, slash federal Medicaid funding, raise the price of private insurance, and gut consumer protections.

If that option wasn’t bad enough, the Senate is also considering another proposal that would repeal the ACA and delay the development of a replacement plan for two years. This would strip healthcare coverage from up to 32 million Americans, make even larger cuts to Medicaid funding, end financial assistance that helps make private insurance more affordable, and eliminate critical consumer protections.

Regardless of which plan is voted upon, the results would be devastating for New Mexico.

  • New Mexicans Will Lose Healthcare Coverage – Every proposal to this point would end Medicaid expansion, jeopardizing the healthcare coverage of over 260,000 New Mexicans.
  • Drastic Cuts to Medicaid Funding – The Senate plans cut federal Medicaid funding by $770-$840 billion over the next decade. This will force New Mexico to have to raise revenue just to maintain current Medicaid levels or cut eligibility and benefits.
  • Consumer Protections are Eliminated – States will be allowed to opt-out of covering “essential health benefits” (prescriptions, maternity and newborn care, and mental healthcare).

Please call and urge your networks to contact the Senators below and tell them to stop with their efforts to repeal the ACA.

• Senator Jeff Flake (AZ) – (202) 224-4521
• Senator John McCain (AZ) – (202) 224-2235
• Senator Cory Gardner (CO) – (202) 224-5941
• Senator Dean Heller (NV) – (202) 224-6244
• Senator Mike Lee (UT) – (202) 224-5444

Introducing our Summer 2017 Legal Interns

The New Mexico Center for Law and Poverty would like to recognize its two outstanding summer legal interns, Eduardo (Eddie) Garcia and Dawn Vernooy.

Eduardo Garcia

Eddie is a recipient of the Peggy Browning Fellowship for distinguished students who have excelled in law school and have demonstrated a commitment to workers’ rights through their educational, work, volunteer, and personal experiences.

Eddie is working under the supervision of the Workers’ Rights team focusing on an initiative to pass an Albuquerque earned sick leave ordinance, creating workers’ compensation outreach materials in Spanish and English for agricultural workers, and defending Albuquerque’s minimum wage ordinance.

A native of the Juárez, México- El Paso, Texas, Eddie was involved in community organizing and activism in the borderland. A witness to his parents struggle with minimum-wage and poor working conditions, he advocated for justice for farmworkers, day laborers, and retail and service industry workers.

Eddie will graduate from UNM School of Law in 2018.

Dawn Vernooy

Dawn Vernooy is the recipient of the Seth Montgomery Fellowship for exceptional law students working on poverty related issues at the Center.

Dawn is working under the supervision of the Workers’ Rights and Public Benefits teams focusing on initiatives to secure paid time off for sick workers and defending Albuquerque’s minimum wage ordinance as well as securing unobstructed access to Medicaid and food assistance. She has a deep personal connection to the work at the Center as a former food assistance and current Medicaid recipient.

A graduate of Albuquerque’s West Mesa High, Dawn holds a PhD in English and has spent over a decade in academia at Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania focusing on women’s and workers’ rights. She currently serves on the Sexual Assault Nurses Examiners Collective board of directors.
Dawn will graduate from UNM School of Law in 2019.

HSD to Hold Public Hearing Tomorrow on Proposal to Increase Medicaid Co-Pays

Tomorrow at 9 a.m., New Mexico Human Services Department (HSD) will hold a public hearing to gather comment on its proposal to increase co-pays for Medicaid patients. This proposal faced opposition from HSD’s own stakeholder group when proposed last year and still faces widespread opposition.

Over 20 groups and individuals have signed on with the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty in comments submitted to HSD opposing the proposal, including the New Mexico Medical Society, New Mexico Academy of Family Physicians, New Mexico Pediatric Society, New Mexico Coalition to End Homelessness, and Parents Reaching Out among others. These groups assert that a wide body of research has shown that such fees decrease access to necessary medical care, shift costs to providers, and will have negative consequences for our healthcare system and state economy.

The aforementioned comments on the proposal can be found here.

What:   Public Comment Hearing

Who:     HSD

When:  Friday, July 14, 2017 at 9 a.m. MST

Where: Rio Grande Conference Room, Toney Anaya Building, 2550 Cerrillos Road, Santa Fe, NM 87505

Action Alert: Act Now Against TrumpCare — Don’t Take Healthcare Away from Millions of Americans!

The U.S. Senate will vote very soon – likely next week – on its version of a bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act. It’s called the Better Care Reconciliation Act but it won’t provide better care at all. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that 22 million Americans will lose coverage if the bill becomes law.

  • Pay More For Less – The bill will make low- and middle- income New Mexicans spend more for less healthcare coverage. It will increase out of pocket costs, while reducing tax credits that help people buy private insurance.
  • New Mexicans Will Lose Healthcare Coverage – Medicaid expansion will be phased out starting in 2021. This will jeopardize healthcare coverage for 260,000 low-income adults in New Mexico.
  • Medicaid Funding Will Be Slashed – The rest of the Medicaid budget will be cut by shifting the program to a per capita cap system – giving New Mexico a set amount to spend per person rather than a federal match for actual state costs for Medicaid. If costs grow faster than the state’s set amount, New Mexico will have to make even deeper cuts to Medicaid services and eligibility for children, people with disabilities, and seniors.
  • Consumer Protections Will Be Gutted – States will be allowed to opt-out of covering “essential health benefits” (doctors, prescriptions, maternity and newborn care, and mental healthcare).
  • Huge Tax Breaks For The Wealthy – The bill will make all of these devastating cuts to healthcare to give tax breaks to the wealthy and big corporations.

What Can You Do? Senators Heinrich and Udall are fighting hard to protect our healthcare. However, you can call 6 key Senators in neighboring states who are considering voting for the bill. Please call them THIS WEEK and tell them to vote NO on the Better Care Reconciliation Act!

Senator Jeff Flake (AZ):  (202) 224-4521

Senator John McCain (AZ): (202) 224-2235

Senator Cory Gardner (CO): (202) 224-5941

Senator Dean Heller (NV): (202) 224-6244

Senator Mike Lee (UT): (202) 224-5444

Senator Ted Cruz (TX): (202) 224-5922

City Ordered to Make Public Mock-Up of Illegible Ballot

Employees Say Families Need Fair Election on Earned Sick Days Question

ALBUQUERQUE, NM — On Wednesday afternoon, Judge Alan Malott ordered the City of Albuquerque to hand over the mock 2017 municipal ballot to members of the Healthy Workforce ABQ campaign, which advocates for the passage of an ordinance that would allow all Albuquerque workers to earn sick leave. The judge also ordered the Albuquerque City Clerk to testify at a deposition about how the City will fit all required issues, contests, and questions on the 2017 ballot.

In its lawsuit against the City of Albuquerque, the campaign argues that because the full text of the Healthy Workforce Ordinance will only fit on the ballot in an illegible and illegally-small font size — approximately 6-point font — the City Clerk should place a legible summary on the ballot and provide a legible, large-text copy of the full ordinance in each voting booth so that voters can read both documents.The City’s uses the same practice for bond questions.

“I’m legally blind and have to cast my ballot in a special voting machine that has long lines. Small font on the ballot will mean more people will have to make use of the limited machines that help visually-impaired people read their ballots,” said Jerry C De Baca, veteran and voter.

According to federal voting systems guidelines adopted in Section 1-9-14 of the New Mexico Election Code, election ballots must be printed at a minimum of 8.5 point font or larger to ensure that voters with poor vision can read their ballots. In their demand for a copy of the City’s mock-up ballot, Healthy Workforce argued that it will show that the earned sick days ordinance can only fit on the ballot in in a font size well below 8.5, in violation of law.

“Everyone deserves a fair election. Voters will be frustrated and discouraged from voting because the election ballot will be printed too small for voters to read,” said Diane Goldfarb of the League of Women Voters.

“A lot of voters will see that small font and skip right over it,” said Becca Arana, a member of OLÉ. “A ballot printed too small to read can determine whether hard-working moms and dads get a fair election, or not, on allowing employees to earn sick days.”

Albuquerque City Clerk, Natalie Howard, was also ordered to testify in a deposition about whether she can fit the Healthy Workforce Ordinance on the ballot in legible type alongside all the other issues that voters will decide in 2017, including the mayoral race, city council races, and bond questions.

Judge Malott did not rule on the font size question or issue any final rulings today. The plaintiffs plan to seek a final ruling soon after the City produces all of the information the Court ordered it to produce today, to ensure the people of ABQ will have a chance to vote a ballot they can read in October.

 

 

Public Hearings on Human Services Department’s Medicaid Plan Ongoing  

ALBUQUERQUE, NM — Public hearings start this week on the Human Services Department’s (HSD) recently released plan for the future of Medicaid in New Mexico – Centennial Care 2.0.

More information about Centennial Care 2.0 can be found on the HSD website here.

The Center on Law and Poverty has released a packet of information detailing alarming changes from the plan that will be harmful and costly to our families and the State that can be found here. Stakeholders are expected to be present to provide public comment at the hearings.

HSD Public Hearings

  • June 14th – Albuquerque – 3:30-5pm – CNM Workforce Training Center (5600 Eagle Rock Ave. NE, Albuquerque, NM 87113)
  • June 19th – Silver City – 4:00 – 6:00 pm – WNMU – GRC Auditorium (1000 W. College Ave., Silver City, NM 88061)
  • June 21st – Farmington – 4:30 – 6:30 pm – Bonnie Dallas Senior Center (109 E. La Plata St., Farmington, NM 87401)
  • June 26th – Roswell – 4:30 – 6:30 pm – Roswell Public Library (301 N. Pennsylvania Ave., Roswell, NM 88201)

Tribal Consultation Hearing

  • June 23rd – Albuquerque – 9:00am – noon – Indian Pueblo Cultural Center (2401 12th Street NW, Albuquerque, NM 87104)