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

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/

Families & School Districts Seek Court Action Against State of New Mexico

Landmark Education Suit Claims Students’ Constitutional Rights Are Being Violated

SANTA FE, NM—A state-court trial will start Monday in a landmark education lawsuit that alleges New Mexico is violating the state constitutional rights of students placed at risk.

The trial will focus on legal claims filed by the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty (the Center) and MALDEF (Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund) challenging the state’s failure to provide economically disadvantaged students, English-language learners (ELL), Native Americans, and students with disabilities with a “sufficient” education, as guaranteed by New Mexico’s constitution.

“The children of New Mexico are intelligent and capable, and have just as much potential as other students across the country. Unfortunately, the State has done little to invest in our children’s future,” said Preston Sanchez, an attorney at the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty. “It’s time that the State be held accountable to its constitutional duty to meet the educational needs of our students so that they may achieve not only academic success but success in other areas of their lives. Our kids’ and our state’s future are at stake.”

While the state’s constitution mandates a “sufficient” and “uniform” education for all students in New Mexico, a majority of public school students are unable to read, write, or do math at grade level. The consolidated lawsuit calls for the court to 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.

“For far too long, New Mexico has left its most vulnerable students behind, disregarding its constitutional duty to fully support their education for all students,” said Marisa Bono,

MALDEF Southwest regional counsel. “Every New Mexico child should have the opportunity to graduate ready to pursue their dreams and meet their full potential—this lawsuit will ensure that opportunity.”

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, Rio Rancho, Santa Fe, Cuba, Moriarty/Edgewood, and Lake Arthur. The families represented have children who are ELL, Native American or economically disadvantaged and have been negatively impacted by the lack of resources provided to New Mexico public schools.

“All I want is for my child to receive the best education possible, but my son and other Navajo students aren’t given the educational resources they need,” said Wilhelmina Yazzie, the named plaintiff in the Yazzie lawsuit whose son attends middle school in Gallup. “My son is a smart and dedicated student, but I worry that he’s not getting the academic support relevant to his native culture and language that will prepare him for college and help him succeed.”

MALDEF’s lawsuit, Martinez v. State of New Mexico, was filed in April 2014 on behalf of parents and public schools in Española, Santa Fe, Albuquerque, Zuni, Magdalena, Las Cruces and Gadsden. The suit alleges that the state’s inadequate funding for ELL and economically disadvantaged students, the lack of quality pre-K programs and other problems violate state constitution. 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.

“I simply want my children to have an equal opportunity to get a good education,” said

Roberto Sanchez, a plaintiff in the Martinez case whose children attend school in Santa Fe. “I see that my three children don’t have access to what they need to get ahead. Sometimes they have substitutes for a long time. We are simply asking that our children have a chance to get the education they need.”

The Center’s legal counsel on the case include Gail Evans, Preston Sanchez, Christopher Sanchez, and Lauren Winkler 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; and David Garcia. The trial is expected to last nine weeks.

For more information on the Yazzie lawsuit, including plaintiff profiles, please visit: http://nmpovertylaw.org/our-work/education-2/.

###

 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 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