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.

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.

Teleconference: Closing Briefs Filed in Landmark Education Lawsuit Against State

MEDIA ADVISORY

 
WHAT:      
The New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty (the Center) and MALDEF (Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund) will hold a teleconference press briefing to discuss closing arguments for their consolidated lawsuit against the State of New Mexico (Yazzie v. State of New Mexico and Martinez v. State of New Mexico) for its failure to provide all public school students a sufficient education in violation of the New Mexico Constitution.

WHEN:   
Wednesday, January 10, 2018  at 10:30 a.m. MT

WHO:   
Gail Evans, Legal Director, the Center
Preston Sanchez, Attorney, the Center
E. Martin Estrada, Partner, Munger, Tolles & Olson LLP; Co-counsel, MALDEF
Ernest Herrera, Staff Attorney, MALDEF

DIAL-IN:     
1-800-672-0175

WHY:          
This landmark lawsuit asserts that the State of New Mexico’s 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 the support necessary to be college, career, and civics ready.

Yazzie v. State of New Mexico was filed by the Center 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 lawsuit was filed to remedy the state’s failure to provide New Mexico students with the educational services they need to succeed. 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.

Martinez v. State of New Mexico 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.

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.

The trial for the consolidated lawsuit began on June 12, 2017 and concluded on August 4 after nine weeks of testimony. The lawsuit asks 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 closing briefs for Martinez v. State of New Mexico and Yazzie v. State of New Mexico have been submitted.

The Martinez plaintiffs’ brief can be found at:

https://www.maldef.org/assets/pdf/Martinez_Closing_Arguments_In_Chief.pdf

The Yazzie plaintiffs’ brief can be found at:

http://nmpovertylaw.org/yazzieclosingbrief-2018-01-09-final

A summary of the Yazzie brief can be found at: http://nmpovertylaw.org/yazzie-closing-brief-summary-2018-01-09/

Stamped copies will be available once the court provides them. Note briefs are embargoed until Wednesday, January 10th at 11:30 a.m. MT.

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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 Maria.A@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 Sandra Hernandez at (213) 629-2512 ext. 129 or shernandez@maldef.org.