Court must ensure NM kids’ right to sufficient education

By Gail Evans, Lead Attorney for plantiffs, Yazzie v. State of New Mexico
(This article appeared in the Albuquerque Journal.)

Our courts have the critical role of upholding the constitutional rights of our children. New Mexico’s Constitution guarantees children a sufficient education, one that prepares them for the rigors of college and the workforce. But for decades, our state has failed our students.

Our public education system is woefully insufficient, leading a district court to rule last July that the state is violating the constitutional rights of our students. After volumes of evidence and testimony from dozens of experts, the court found the state has not adequately invested in public education nor adopted the educational instruction and programs constitutionally required to close achievement gaps for N.M. students, especially low-income, Native American, English-language learners and students with disabilities.

The legislative process is a political one fraught with competing interests. For years, our children have been shortchanged by legislative budgets that have consistently underfunded public schools. Unfortunately, even after the court’s ruling, the Legislature this year only went part of the way in addressing the changes necessary.

While the funding allocated for public schools is higher than in recent years, it won’t even get us back to 2008 levels when adjusted for inflation. Like today, in 2008, our funding was insufficient and our state’s education outcomes ranked at or near the bottom nationally. Filling a hole that gets us back to 2008 levels of funding is not the investment in education our Constitution requires.

The increased funding will not be sufficient to ensure social services, counseling, health care and literacy specialists are available to all students who need them. It is not enough to cover basic instructional materials for the classroom, or to invest in our educators to attract and retain new teachers and expand their qualifications. It is not enough to ensure teaching is tailored to the unique cultural and linguistic needs of our students, including English-language learners and indigenous communities. And the transportation budget remains insufficient to ensure all students have the opportunity to participate in after-school and summer programs.

While the governor’s call for a “moonshot for education” is certainly the kind of vision we need, a moonshot requires sufficient investment of programs, services, time and money that we have yet to commit.

While it is encouraging our new governor will not appeal the Yazzie/Martinez ruling, she has now called for the court to vacate sections of the ruling. This will only further endanger our students’ life chances. The state should instead work to comply with the ruling and the Constitution; the future success of our children and New Mexico depends on it. Children should not be pawns in the political process. It is the role of the judicial branch to interpret and enforce the law. The court ruling requires us to act, mandating that we do better by our students. Our children are smart and capable, and rich in culture and diversity. We can provide an education system that serves all New Mexicans, regardless of their economic circumstances or cultural background.

I dream of a moonshot for education, too

By Wilhelmina Yazzie, lead plaintiff in the Yazzie/Martinez v. New Mexico lawsuit.
(This op-ed appeared in the Santa Fe New Mexican)

When it comes to providing a quality education for every child in New Mexico, the stakes are too high for the “wait and see” approach the Santa Fe New Mexican takes in its recent editorial (“Educators must take the lead in reforms,” Our View, March 24).

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has said she wants a “moonshot for education.” As the lead plaintiff in the Yazzie/Martinez v. state of New Mexico lawsuit, I, too, dream of a moonshot for my children and for all of New Mexico’s children. I am of the Diné (Navajo) tribe and we view our children as “sacred.” They are the heart of our existence, and it is our responsibility to prepare them for iiná, what we call “life” in my language.

Our state constitution mandates that the state of New Mexico is responsible for providing a sufficient education for all students. The state has not followed through on its obligation, and in her court ruling on our lawsuit, Judge Sarah Singleton agreed.

The Legislature had a chance this session to change course, but it did not go nearly far enough. The funding increases for public education passed in this legislative session only serve to backfill budgets and do not even return basic school programming to 2008 levels. They will not adequately cover the critical programs needed to improve outcomes for all students — especially for our Native American children, our Latino/Hispanic children, our English language learners, our low-income children and our children with special needs.

My children’s schools do not have enough textbooks. Our teachers do not have basic classroom supplies. When it comes to testing, my children do not score at grade level, despite getting good grades and being on honor roll. My children do not receive enough academic support and resources to get them ready for these tests, and they have to pass these tests to graduate. Our schools have limited after-school programs and tutoring.

Our schools also lack one of the most important teachings for our youth — cultural and language education. It is imperative that we bring culturally relevant programs and resources into our schools, especially at a time like this. Our children are yearning for their identity and values, and others are searching for acceptance.

Being culturally connected to our language and culture help us find purpose and guidance; it gives us confidence and motivation to excel in all that we do. It also teaches our children our way of life and the meaning of our existence, gives us pride in who we are and where we come from. It also teaches non-Native children and educators our history and with that knowledge brings respect for one another and creates hózhó (peace) between all people that we interact with. That is the path to balance and harmony.

I am asking our state and our lawmakers to address all these issues; to act upon the court’s ruling and honor the constitutional rights of our students. We need pre-K for every student. We need more multilingual teachers, and they deserve better pay. All classrooms should have access to textbooks, technology and other basic resources. Our children should be our first priority. They are the next generation, and all I want is for my children, your children, our children to receive the quality education that they deserve.

To transform our public education system, it will take the dedication and cooperation of every member of our community— from tribal leaders to educators and experts to parents. We need everyone at the table if we are to succeed at what is most important to us: helping our children realize their dreams.

Key legislation on multicultural education framework in New Mexico discussed by sponsors, education experts

SANTA FE, NEW MEXICO—Among the many education bills that are working their way through legislative committee, those sponsored by Representative Tomás E. Salazar are designed to ensure a multicultural, bilingual framework is at the core of the New Mexico education system. The bills must be passed in the House Appropriations Committee and receive funding to move forward in the legislature. The committee is currently considering the public school budgets and intends to finalize its budget bill by next week.

“More than 75 percent of New Mexico public school students are culturally and linguistically diverse. This diversity should be celebrated and must also be reflected in curriculum and teacher development,” said Representative Salazar. “Judge Singleton’s order is clear—we can no longer violate the constitutional rights of a majority of our students.”

HB 111, HB 120, and HB 159 were developed out of the Transform Education NM Platform, a comprehensive blueprint 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.

“We know that a multicultural education is essential for our students to learn and succeed,” said Preston Sanchez, plaintiff attorney on the Yazzie lawsuit. “We urge our legislators and our governor to support these bills and to include them in HB 2. The success of New Mexico’s schools depends on making sure these bills are passed and fully funded.”

Research shows a multicultural and multilingual education approach allows students to maintain their language and identity, resulting in a marked improvement in learning achievement. The court found that the state is not meeting its own duties and responsibilities for a multicultural education established in the New Mexico Indian Education Act, Hispanic Education Act, and Bilingual Multicultural Education Act, which Representative Salazar’s pieces of legislation aim to fix.

“English language learners (ELLs) are the lowest performing group across all sub-groups when they don’t have the support they need. Also, indigenous languages are in peril. This is due in great part to current public school policies that must be addressed,” said UNM professor and bilingual learning expert Rebecca Blum Martinez. “We have an obligation to assist Indigenous and Hispanic students as much as possible while honoring the diverse cultural identity that is the hallmark of our state. These bills provide our teachers with the pedagogical tools they need to be successful.”

“These pieces of legislation, and everything else in the Transform Education platform, is what our students, and future generations of students deserve,” said Edward Tabet-Cubero, member of the Transform Education NM Coalition. “Thanks to all the information and guidance that came out of the Yazzie/Martinez trial, the court has given a clear direction for our state’s education system, and the multicultural platform is a critical component to fixing that system and doing right by our students. The time to fix our education system is now.”

Information on other legislation that is part of the Transform Education NM platform can be found here: https://transformeducationnm.org/resources/. These changes will realize New Mexico’s constitutional mandate for a sufficient public education system.

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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. To learn more, visit www.transformeducationnm.org.

Join us to transform education in New Mexico!

We are in a historic moment that will define the future of education for children in New Mexico. In just a few weeks, the new governor and our legislators will be making important decisions about our schools. Transform Education NM invites you to join our efforts at this critical time.

Our students are strong, not only because of their intelligence and creativity, but also because of their cultures and communities. Our education system should reflect those strengths. But for decades, the state has violated the constitutional rights of students and failed to provide a sufficient education. Students who are Native American, English language learners, low-income, and students with disabilities have suffered the worst educational disparities.

Because of the landmark Yazzie/Martinez court decision this past summer, the state is finally being held accountable for this systemic failure. The court ordered the state to take immediate action to fix our schools.

A PLATFORM FOR ACTION

Together with hundreds of stakeholders, including plaintiffs in the lawsuit, as well as educators, parents, tribal leaders, education experts and community leaders, our coalition has developed a platform for action. Supported by the research and volumes of evidence that led to the court ruling, the platform is a blueprint for transformation for our schools that:

  • Reflects a multicultural and multilingual framework as a foundation for learning.
  • Values our teachers with higher pay and professional development.
  • Provides all children access to pre-kindergarten programs.
  • Ensures access to instructional materials, technology and transportation, and extended learning opportunities like summer school and more classroom time.
  • Expands social services, counseling and healthcare so students come to school ready to learn.
  • Adequately funds the schools to have the resources necessary for our children to learn and succeed, and ensures accountability for the funds.

Click here to find out how you can get involved, endorse the platform, and join the coalition! 

New Mexico is on the verge of big changes—together, we can ensure the success of our children and our state.

Read a summary of the Transform Education NM platform here. Read the full platform here.

Transform Education NM coalition members include:

New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty, College Horizons, Dual Language Education of NM, Keres Children’s Learning Center, AFT New Mexico (American Federation of Teachers), Native American Community Academy (NACA), NACA Inspired School Network (NISN), Learning Alliance NM, NM Dream Team/United We Dream, Southwest Organizing Project (SWOP), National Education Association NM (NEA-NM), New Mexico Association for Bilingual Education (NMABE), Coalition for the Majority, Native American Budget & Policy Institute (NABPI), New Mexico Education Action Alliance, CHI St. Joseph’s Children, NGAGE NM, The Santa Fe Indian School Leadership Institute, NM School Boards Association, The Sun Project, and current and former superintendents of school districts and plaintiff school districts (Cuba Independent School District, Gallup-McKinley County Schools, Lake Arthur Public Schools, Moriarty Edgewood School District, Rio Rancho Public Schools, Santa Fe Public Schools)

New Mexico Indian Affairs Committee to hear how landmark education ruling could impact Native American students

SANTA FE—Today New Mexico’s Indian Affairs Committee will hear how the recent court decision on New Mexico’s education system could impact Native American students.

The landmark ruling on the consolidated lawsuit Yazzie/Martinez v. State of New Mexico found that the state has failed to provide students—and in particular economically disadvantaged, Native American, and English language learner students—with sufficient educational opportunities as required by the state constitution, the Indian Education Act, and other state laws. The lawsuit was brought by families and school districts represented by the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

Center staff will present the IAC with evidence that New Mexico’s students are just as capable as others across the country. Unfortunately, historical and current injustices and lack of funding for programs and curricula proven to work have led to disparate outcomes for our state’s children, especially for Native students.

Center staff will also present parts of an education transformation platform—agreed upon by over a hundred people from across the state, including educators, advocates, tribal leaders, and families—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, lowers class size, and increases funding for the At-Risk Index.

WHAT:    
Indian Affairs Committee hearing on Yazzie/Martinez v. State of New Mexico

WHEN:
Wednesday, November 28 at 10:15 a.m.

WHERE:
State Capitol, Room 322, 490 Old Santa Fe Trail, Santa Fe, NM 87501

WHO:
New Mexico Indian Affairs Committee
Preston Sanchez, attorney with the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty

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/

Press conference on Monday on Yazzie/Martinez education ruling

District court rules the State of New Mexico violates students’ constitutional rights

The New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty and MALDEF (Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund) will hold a press conference and a teleconference press briefing Monday to discuss the ruling in their consolidated lawsuit against the State of New Mexico (Yazzie v. State of New Mexico and Martinez v. State of New Mexico). The district court has ruled that the state fails to provide all public school students a sufficient education in violation of the New Mexico Constitution.

PRESS CONFERENCE INFORMATION

WHEN:     
Monday, July 23, 2018 at 10:00 a.m. MT

WHO:      
Center attorneys, MALDEF attorneys, education stakeholders, educators, parents, and students

WHERE:    
Washington Middle School Park
Northwest corner of Park SW and 10th Street SW
Albuquerque, NM 87102
See map at: https://goo.gl/maps/yLtVzHEpeJw

Join the press conference on Facebook Live: https://www.facebook.com/nmcenteronlawandpoverty/

TELECONFERENCE INFORMATION

WHEN:      
Monday, July 23, 2018 at 11:30 a.m. MT

WHO:     
Gail Evans, lead counsel, the Center
Preston Sanchez, attorney, the Center
Ernest Herrera, staff attorney, MALDEF
E. Martin Estrada, partner at Munger, Tolles & Olsen LLP and co-counsel to MALDEF
Veronica Garcia, superintendent, Santa Fe Public Schools

DIAL-IN:
877-830-2589 or 785-424-1736
Conference ID: New Mexico

WHY:         
The district court in Santa Fe has ruled that the state is responsible for failing to provide adequate educational opportunities to all public school children. The lawsuit brought by New Mexican families and six school districts asserts that the State of New Mexico’s inadequate funding of public schools and lack of necessary oversight deprives children – particularly low-income, Native American and English language learner students – of the education necessary to be ready for college, career, and civic life.

The ruling can be found here: http://nmpovertylaw.org/order-decison-2018-07-20/

Judge rules New Mexico violates public school students’ constitutional right to sufficient educational opportunities

SANTA FE, NM – July 20, 2018 – A state court ruled today that New Mexico’s education system violates the state constitution because it fails to provide students a sufficient public education.

Families and school districts in the consolidated lawsuit Yazzie v. State of New Mexico and Martinez v. State of New Mexico sued the state for failing to provide public school students with a sufficient education as mandated by the state’s constitution. The lawsuit challenged the state’s arbitrary and inadequate funding of public schools as well as its failure to provide students with the programs and services needed to be college, career and civic ready. It alleged that the lack of necessary monitoring and oversight deprived students of the resources and services they need to succeed—particularly low-income, students of color, including Native American, English-language learners, and students with disabilities.

The plaintiffs are represented by the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty (the Center) and MALDEF (Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund).

“We are extremely gratified that the court has ruled in favor of children and families and recognizes the State’s failure to provide all of New Mexico’s public school students a sufficient education,” said Ernest Herrera, a MALDEF staff attorney. “Now, the State can no longer deny its legal responsibility to all New Mexico’s students.”

In her ruling, First Judicial District Court Judge Sarah Singleton affirmed the plaintiffs’ claims, stating:

“Therefore, the Defendants will be given until April 15, 2019, to take immediate steps to ensure that New Mexico schools have the resources necessary to give at-risk students the opportunity to obtain a uniform and sufficient education that prepares them for college and career. Reforms to the current system of financing public education and managing schools should address the shortcomings of the current system by ensuring, as a part of that process, that every public school in New Mexico would have the resources necessary for providing the opportunity for a sufficient education for all at-risk students.”

Gail Evans, lead counsel on the case for the Center, shared, “We owe it to the hundreds of thousands of children across New Mexico, in this generation and the next, to ensure the court’s ruling is implemented without delay. Now is the opportunity to transform public schools—the state knows what it needs to make available to our students: a quality education that is culturally and linguistically responsive and the necessary resources to make opportunities possible for all children who need them.”

During the eight-week trial, which began in June 2017, educational experts provided the Court testimony about the needs of New Mexico students and the systemic deficiencies undermining student success. Many school superintendents testified that their districts lack resources, quality programs, and state support, which also includes collaboration between districts and tribal communities.

“I just want my son to be prepared for life, to get a good job, learn strong ethics, and get life skills,” said James Martinez, a plaintiff in the Yazzie case. “My son just tested as gifted, but his school doesn’t have the curriculum or resources to push him to his full potential. The kids who are falling behind have it much worse. All kids should have the same opportunity to learn, progress, and succeed. The only way we can do that is by fixing our public schools and giving all kids a chance.”

Seventy percent of New Mexico students cannot read or write at grade level, 80 percent cannot do math at grade level and graduation rates are among the lowest in the nation, according to the New Mexico Public Education Department. Witnesses also testified that the state fails to address the needs of English-language learners by failing to provide sufficient access to quality bilingual/multicultural education programs.

During the trial, the State’s experts conceded that students at high-poverty schools have less access to effective teachers, yet the State has failed to provide adequate resources to improve teacher training, compensation, recruitment and retention.

The Martinez lawsuit was brought on behalf of parents and public school children from Española, Santa Fe, Albuquerque, Zuni, Magdalena, Las Cruces and Gadsden, including students who are English-language learners, Native American, economically disadvantaged or disabled. 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. The state sought to dismiss the case but the court in Martinez denied the request, and ruled for the first time in New Mexico’s history that education is a fundamental right under the state constitution.

The Center’s Yazzie lawsuit 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, Native American, Hispanic, low-income and have been negatively impacted by the lack of resources provided to New Mexico public schools.

A copy of the decision can be found here: http://nmpovertylaw.org/order-decison-2018-07-20/

Hearing on PED plan for K-3 testing and retention on Thursday in Santa Fe

SANTA FE—The New Mexico Public Education Department will hear public comment in Santa Fe this Thursday on its proposed one-sized-fits-all testing and retention policy. The New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty opposes the proposed rule because mandatory retention based on standardized tests hurts our children and violates state law.

The New Mexico Legislature has given families and school districts the authority to decide what is best for each child based on a child’s individual needs. The PED’s rule, however, would require our state’s youngest students – kindergartners through third graders – to pass a PED-designated test in reading to continue to the next grade. Parents would have the right to refuse the first effort to retain a child, but retention would be mandatory if the child did not pass the test the following year.

It is critical that all New Mexican children know how to read. However, years of research shows that holding kids back does nothing to improve their reading skills; instead, it increases their likelihood of dropping out of school. Rather than retaining five to eight-year-olds, the Center proposes the PED invest in evidenced-based programs that actually help children learn to read, like PreK, extended learning time, and professional development for teachers who teach reading.

The Center’s comments on the proposed regulations can be found here: http://nmpovertylaw.org/letter-final-comments-to-ped-proposed-regs-2018-05-15/

PED’s proposed regulations can be found here: https://webnew.ped.state.nm.us/bureaus/policy-innovation-measurement/rule-notification/

WHAT:    
PED public hearing on proposed new rule 6.19.9 NMAC, Early Literacy Remediation, Interventions, and Parental Engagement

WHEN:
Thursday, May 17, 2018 from 9:00 a.m.-12:00 p.m.

WHERE:  
New Mexico Public Education Department
Mabry Hall
300 Don Gaspar Ave., Santa Fe, NM 87501

WHO:
New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty attorneys
New Mexico Public Education Department staff
Education advocates

Closing briefs filed in landmark education lawsuit against State of New Mexico

Education lawsuit asserts students’ state constitutional rights are being violated

SANTA FE, NM – Attorneys from the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty (the Center) and MALDEF (Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund) have filed closing briefs for their consolidated lawsuit (Yazzie v. State of New Mexico and Martinez v. State of New Mexico) against the State of New Mexico for its failure to provide all public school students a sufficient education as mandated by the New Mexico Constitution.

The consolidated lawsuits claim 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, and students with disabilities – of a sufficient education.

Plaintiffs in the suit seek a declaration that the system is unconstitutional and that the system should provide the opportunity for all students to be ready for college and career. The trial for the consolidated lawsuit began on June 12, 2017 and concluded on August 4 after eight weeks of testimony.

The closing brief for Martinez v. New Mexico – filed in April 2014 on behalf of parents and public school children from Española, Santa Fe, Albuquerque, Zuni, Magdalena, Las Cruces and Gadsden – contends that the state is in violation of the Education Clause of the New Mexico Constitution because the state’s education system has failed to provide adequate resources, programs, and oversight for economically disadvantaged students, English language learner (ELL) students, and students with disabilities.

Additionally, the Martinez closing brief asserts that the state’s education system violates the Equal Protection Clause of the New Mexico Constitution by denying equal treatment to economically-disadvantaged and ELL students. For example, these students are generally taught by less experienced and less skilled teachers than other students. The closing brief also claims violation of the Due Process Clause of the New Mexico Constitution because the state’s irrational and unreasonable funding policies prevent students with disabilities, as well as ED and ELL students, from receiving a sufficient education.

“The evidence shows that the state’s failures are not just a matter of money or policy, but that the education system as a whole deprives at-risk students of the opportunity to be ready for college and career,” said Ernest I. Herrera, MALDEF staff attorney.

The closing brief for Yazzie v. State of New Mexico argues the evidence presented in the trial indisputably shows that most New Mexico students are not college, career, and civics ready. A majority of the state’s public school students have not been provided a sufficient education in order to be able to read, write, or do math at grade level, and the state also consistently has one of the lowest high school graduation rates in the country.

“These are not achievement gaps, attributable to shortcomings of our children, families, and educators,” said Gail Evans, legal director of the Center. “These are opportunity gaps attributable to a broken system that does not effectively serve our children.”

The Center asserts that the state fails to provide school districts with enough funding and support. For example, despite evidence that high quality preschool and extended learning opportunities like the K-3 Plus Program successfully closes achievement gaps, only a minority of children have access to those programs. Further, the closing brief claims New Mexico’s public education system is constitutionally insufficient for Native Americans, having failed to satisfy the New Mexico Indian Education Act (2003), which requires the state to provide Native students a culturally-relevant education, and to collaborate with tribes in doing so.

The Yazzie plaintiffs specifically seek an injunction requiring the state to take to take three actions: first, no later than the 2019-2020 school year, to develop a comprehensive plan of programs and services to provide a uniform and sufficient system of public education to all students in New Mexico; second, to provide sufficient increased funding and a revised formula for distributing funds to the public school districts; and lastly, to establish an effective system of accountability and enforcement to ensure that every child in New Mexico is receiving a sufficient education.

The state sought to dismiss the lawsuits, but the court in Martinez denied the request and ruled for the first time in New Mexico’s history that education is a fundamental right. The court consolidated the two cases in 2015.

State District Court Judge Sarah Singleton is expected to make a declaration this spring.