New Mexico has a long way to go to improve education system, charge Yazzie plaintiffs 

SANTA FE—Students still lack the basics that are necessary for a constitutionally sufficient education, charged the Yazzie plaintiffs of the landmark education lawsuit, Yazzie/Martinez v. State of New Mexico in a legal notice of case status filed with the First Judicial District Court today. 

“We know that the Public Education Department and the governor want New Mexico’s diverse student population to have the educational opportunities they need to succeed,” said Lauren Winkler, an attorney with the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty. “Unfortunately, our legislature did not do nearly enough for our students this session. As a result, school districts have been unable to provide additional programming and supports for at-risk students like bilingual education and social services. In fact, many districts have been forced to cut basic programs like reading intervention and drop-out/truancy prevention, and they cannot meet the demand for pre-K programs.” 

Plaintiffs in the case are working with the governor and the PED on a plan to bring the state into compliance with the First Judicial District Court’s most recent February 2019 court order, which found that the state violated students’ constitutional rights to a sufficient education and ordered the state to provide educational programs, services, and funding to schools to prepare students so they are college and career ready.

The court ordered the state to take immediate action for at-risk students that face the deepest inequities and barriers to education, including low-income students, Native American and Latino students, English language learners, and students with disabilities. Judge Sarah Singleton’s initial ruling was in July 2018.

Since the court’s July 2018 decision, the Yazzie plaintiffs have worked with a broad group of educators, tribal members, community groups, and school districts to craft a platform of action necessary to transform New Mexico’s educational system to address the needs of at-risk children in compliance with the court orders. Most of the programs and funding in the platform, supported by plaintiffs, were blocked by legislative leaders and died in committees.

The New Mexico State Legislature increased education funding this past session, but school districts had to spend the bulk of the increase on a much needed raise for educators. Once districts allocated funds for the modest six percent raise, they did not have enough funding for basic educational necessities that would bring the state into compliance with the court’s ruling.

“We still have a substandard education system for our children. Our schools not only lack the basics, they lack the essential culturally relevant resources and materials, that our children need,” said Wilhelmina Yazzie, the lead plaintiff in the case who has children in the Gallup McKinley County Schools. “This is not acceptable. All our children deserve an equal opportunity to succeed. My hope is that the state will act upon the court’s ruling and make our children a priority. We cannot waste another year. Our children are the future of New Mexico, and they are sacred.” 

The notice of case status states that the Legislature’s increased funding is not sufficient to:

  • Cover basic instructional materials and technology for classrooms;
  • Ensure teaching is tailored to the unique cultural and linguistic needs of our students, including English-language learners and indigenous communities;
  • Adequately expand access to pre-K, summer school, after school programs, reading specialists, and smaller class sizes;
  • Ensure social services, counseling, health care and literacy specialists are available to all students who need them;
  • Invest in our educators to attract and retain new teachers and expand their qualifications, especially for special education, science, and bilingual education;
  • Adequately increase the transportation budget to ensure all students have the opportunity to participate in after-school and summer programs.

“Raises for teachers and support personnel were essential to recruiting and retaining employees. Rio Rancho is still seeing its teachers exit the profession and leave for better salaries. The most important support we provide students is a highly qualified teacher, but we struggle to find staff in every field. New Mexico must offer salaries that are competitive with neighboring states,” said Sue Cleveland, superintendent of the Rio Rancho Public School District. “But after satisfying the salary mandate, insufficient funds remained for programs such as pre-K and for addressing the needs for social workers, dual-language programs, and literacy specialists. We continue to run a deficit of $800,000 for transportation, diverting funds away from the classroom. Positive gains have been made, but there is still work to be done.”

While the Legislature significantly increased funding for extended learning through the K-5 Plus and the Extended Learning programs, the vast majority of at-risk students do not have access to these programs.

By the time the laws were passed, districts had little time to consult with teachers and parents to determine whether the districts could apply for the programs. Many districts did not apply for funding because they determined that the money available would not cover the actual cost of the programs; the program requirements were too strict and inflexible; and they did not have time to determine whether they could implement the programs.

The Legislature also increased funding for pre-K for four-year-olds, but thousands of families who applied for the program still do not have access.

The Yazzie plaintiff’s Notice to the Court of Case Status in Yazzie/Martinez v. State of New Mexico can be found here: http://nmpovertylaw.org/notice-yazziemartinez-v-nm-yazzie-plaintiffs-2019-06-28/

The final ruling in Yazzie/Martinez v. State of New Mexico can be found here: http://nmpovertylaw.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/D-101-CV-2014-00793-Final-Judgment-and-Order-NCJ-1.pdf

Court order supports call to transform New Mexico’s school system

New court document explains precisely how state is not meeting constitutional requirements for a sufficient education

ALBUQUERQUE—Judge Sarah Singleton’s most recent order in Yazzie/Martinez v. State of New Mexico makes clear that the court expects a major overhaul of the state’s public school system to bring it into compliance with the constitution and other state laws.

The extensive 600-page “findings of fact and conclusions of law” describes in great detail the need for 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.  

“The court’s ruling couldn’t be more clear: the programs and services that work must be made available immediately to all children, not just some children,” said Gail Evans, lead counsel for the Yazzie plaintiffs for the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty. “The state has failed a generation of children but now has a historic opportunity, and a legal obligation, to rise to the occasion and provide our children the educational opportunities they need to succeed. No more excuses. No more nickel and diming our kids. The time to fix our schools is now.”

The court’s order mandates that the state take immediate steps, by April 15, 2019, to ensure New Mexico’s schools have the resources necessary to prepare students for college and career.

“I just want what every parent wants, for my children to graduate ready to pursue their dreams. Every New Mexican child deserves that,” said Wilhelmina Yazzie, the lead plaintiff in Yazzie v. State of New Mexico. “My son’s school in Gallup doesn’t have enough resources to provide basic materials for all the students, much less offer the culturally relevant programs he needs. Our children are important, and they are just as capable as any other children in the nation. It’s time for New Mexico to truly transform our public education system – small fixes just don’t cut it.”

The judge’s order provides legal backing to the Transform Education NM platform: a blueprint for action, supported by research and evidence at trial, that sets forth the initial necessary steps to bring the state’s education system into compliance with the constitution. The platform was developed by hundreds of educational leaders, families, tribal leaders, and the lawsuit plaintiffs.

“Our recommendations for overhauling our school system don’t just constitute a nice wish-list but are requirements to meet the basic needs of our students,” said Veronica Garcia, superintendent of Santa Fe Public Schools, which is one of the plaintiffs in the Yazzie/Martinez lawsuit. “The law is on the side of students across the state. Policymakers need to pass the education legislation necessary to satisfy the judge’s order. We won’t stop advocating until every child in New Mexico has the educational opportunities they deserve.”

“From students to teachers, from curriculum to funding, from early childhood to graduation, we have the unique opportunity to transform our public education system and do right by our students,” said Adan Delgado, Superintendent of Cuba Independent District, one of the other plaintiffs.

“At-risk and Native American students have been left behind for too long in New Mexico,” said Mike Hyatt, superintendent of Gallup McKinley County Schools, also a plaintiff in the lawsuit. “We look forward to working with legislators and the state to turn around our education system to fulfill its constitutional obligation to meet the needs of all students.”

The judge’s order can be found here: http://nmpovertylaw.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/Courts-Findings-of-Fact-and-Conclusions-of-Law-2018-12-20.pdf

The Transform Education NM platform can be found here: http://nmpovertylaw.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/Transform-Education-NM-Platform-2018-12-11.pdf

A summary of the platform can be found here: http://nmpovertylaw.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/Transform-Education-NM-2-Page-Platform-Summary.pdf

Educators, advocates, and tribal leaders propose plan to transform New Mexico’s education system

ALBUQUERQUE—Over a hundred people from across the state, including educators, advocates, tribal leaders, and families, met on Friday to discuss the reforms necessary to provide New Mexican students with the educational opportunities they need to learn and thrive. The coalition agreed upon a comprehensive platform that greatly expands access to culturally and linguistically relevant curricula, enhances teacher supports, and promotes proven, research-based programs such as universal pre-K and K-5 Plus, extends the school year, lowers class size, and increases funding for the At-Risk Index.

“It’s going to take all of us to transform public education in New Mexico,” said Emma Jones, lead organizer at the Learning Alliance. “Parents, students, educators, and community leaders have been working together on solutions to fix our public schools, and we now have a blueprint for real change. This movement will not stop until every student in New Mexico has access to the quality education all our children need and deserve.”

If adopted by the state, the plan would satisfy the requirements of the recent state court ruling on the consolidated lawsuit Yazzie v. State of New Mexico and Martinez v. State of New Mexico brought by families and school districts represented by the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty and families represented by MALDEF (Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund).

“The ruling has provided an incredible opportunity to transform our public schools for our children, grandchildren, and generations to come,” said Lauren Winkler, attorney at the New Mexico Center for Law and Poverty. “We look forward to working with the state to bring it into compliance with the court’s order. We all want a better education for our children. We hope that we can come to an agreement soon.”

In June, the First Judicial Court declared that New Mexico’s public education system is not sufficient under the state constitution. The court found New Mexico’s education system particularly failed low-income, students of color, Native American, English-language learners, and students with disabilities. The court ordered the state to make sweeping changes to its schools to provide students with the programs and services they need to be college and career ready.

The comprehensive education plan includes significant increases to per pupil funding and teacher pay, time on task in the classroom, access to early childhood education, and culturally and linguistically relevant curriculum.

“We should be leveraging New Mexico’s tremendous assets and diversity,” said Carmen Lopez, executive director of College Horizons. “Our children have such great potential. It’s time to empower them with the educational opportunities they need to succeed.”

Friday’s meeting was the third and largest meeting held by education experts and community leaders since the court decision to discuss how to transform the state’s public education system. The coalition will continue to work together to push for quality education for all New Mexico’s children.

“Education is the single most important investment we can make in New Mexico’s future, not only for positive educational outcomes but for our economy and quality of life for all New Mexicans,” said Veronica Garcia, superintendent of Santa Fe Public Schools, which is a plaintiff in the Yazzie lawsuit. “We have an opportunity to make the  transformative changes to our education system that we all know will help our children learn and thrive. Now politics as usual must end. There can be no more excuses. We must give all children the education they deserve.”

A copy of the platform can be found here: http://nmpovertylaw.org/yazzie-proposed-remedy-platform-2018-09-17/

A summary of the court’s opinion can be found here: http://nmpovertylaw.org/graphic-yazzie-martinez-decision/

More information on the Yazzie/Martinez lawsuit can be found here: http://nmpovertylaw.org/our-work/education/