Court issues final ruling in landmark education lawsuit

Legislature’s proposed funding will not meet court’s mandate for transformation of education system

ALBUQUERQUE—Late Thursday, First Judicial District Court Judge Sarah Singleton issued a final ruling in Yazzie/Martinez v. State of New Mexico. The court found that the state has 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 current proposed funding for education under discussion in the New Mexico Legislature will not suffice to meet the court’s mandate.

Current New Mexico Legislature education funding proposals are asking for an increase of $400 to $500 million—which amounts to a 15-18 percent increase in public school funding. Evidence at trial showed that public schools are receiving less funding now than in 2008, when adjusting for inflation. That data has since been updated to show that an increase of $409 million would only return New Mexico to 2008 education funding levels. In 2008, New Mexico was ranked at the bottom in the country in reading and math proficiency and was clearly not in compliance with New Mexico’s constitutional requirement. Reverting funding back to 2008 resources levels does not meet the court’s mandates to sufficiently fund programs and services for our children

“New Mexico’s students are legally entitled to the educational opportunities they need to succeed. This final judgement is yet another clear statement from the court that the state has a legal mandate to take immediate action to ensure that our students are getting the quality of education that they are constitutionally entitled to,” said Gail Evans, lead attorney for Yazzie plaintiffs in the Yazzie/Martinez v. State of New Mexico lawsuit. “To comply with the constitution, we must have a transformation of our educational system—nothing less is going to cut it. The system has failed our students for decades and that must stop now.”

The court made clear that students’ constitutional rights to a sufficient education cannot be violated so that the state can save funds. The court’s final judgement states, “The defendants must comply with their duty to provide an adequate education and may not conserve financial resources at the expense of our constitutional resources.”

The legislature’s current budget under consideration does not fully implement a multicultural and bilingual curriculum, does not adequately increase teacher pay and professional development to recruit and retain teachers, and does not ensure children have access to instructional materials, technology and transportation, and other basic services that are critical for educational success.

“Families and school districts have been struggling to work with the resources that they have,” said Tom Sullivan, former superintendent of Moriarty-Edgewood School District, which is a plaintiff in the Yazzie/Martinez lawsuit. “Most states’ education budgets have recovered from and surpassed pre-recession amounts, but in New Mexico, the current budget proposal is barely returning to 2008 levels when education was already underfunded.”

“We have an incredible opportunity to do the right thing for our students, our future,” said Mike Grossman, superintendent of Lake Arthur Municipal Schools, one of the smallest districts in New Mexico and a Yazzie plaintiff. “Governor Lujan-Grisham and new Public Education Department have expressed a strong commitment to our students and to public education. It is critical that they now step in and drive the major educational reforms and the big investments it will take to fix our schools.”

The court’s final judgement and order can be found here: http://nmpovertylaw.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/D-101-CV-2014-00793-Final-Judgment-and-Order-NCJ-1.pdf

From teacher salaries to a multicultural education framework, legislation seeks to improve New Mexico’s education system

SANTA FE, NEW MEXICO—Several of the court-mandated remedies to fix the New Mexico education system were discussed at a press event on Monday in the Roundhouse Rotunda, where legislators, students, parents, and lawsuit plaintiffs explained precisely what is necessary to ensure that students’ constitutional right to a quality education is no longer violated.

The remedies include 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.

“These aren’t pie-in-the-sky wishes from concerned parents—we’re working with legislators on bills that represent the minimum fixes needed to meet the court’s order and the rights of our students,” said Victoria Tafoya, Director of the New Mexico Association for Bilingual Education and spokesperson for the Transform Education NM Coalition. “We have a unique opportunity to give all of our students across the state the chance to succeed, and that’s what these pieces of legislation aim to do.”

Proposed legislation for 2019 is based on the Transform Education NM Platform, a comprehensive  blueprint for action 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.

“Teachers are the heart of education,” said Representative Sheryl Williams Stapleton, Majority Floor Leader of the New Mexico House and sponsor of HB 171, which raises the minimum wage for teachers. “We have among the lowest teacher wages in the country, and one of the highest turnover rates. To be competitive with surrounding states, and to be compliant with the court order, teacher salaries must be increased and must be adjusted yearly for inflation.”

Representative Tomás E. Salazar is sponsoring HB 111, HB 120, and HB 159 to ensure a multicultural, bilingual framework is at the core of the education system. “The bills sponsored by myself and my fellow legislators align to an overall platform that was developed by teachers, superintendents, parents, tribal education experts, and many others. For the first time, we’ve really listened to New Mexicans on what we need to redesign the education system here. We have the knowledge and expertise, and I’m proud to carry these bills.”

Although 76 percent of New Mexico public school students are culturally and linguistically diverse, the court found that the State is violating New Mexico laws that require a multicultural and bilingual framework for New Mexico’s schools. Multiculturalism and bilingualism must be reflected in curriculum, teacher development and in building pathways for teachers.

“As an immigrant, I believe we should be valuing our diversity and seeing it as a strength,” said Michelle Soto, a high school student and member of the New Mexico Dream Team who spoke at the event. “We know that students who are more connected to their culture and community do better in school and we need to strengthen the power of that connection. We can no longer leave some of our students behind.”

Education funding in New Mexico is closely tied to the oil and gas industry, and thereby dependent on the price of oil. While the industry is doing well, and the state legislature is currently operating with a budget surplus, the tax revenue that supports our schools is volatile.

“Big change requires a big investment, and a big investment is what we need to build a world-class education system,” said James Jimenez, Executive Director of New Mexico Voices for Children and former Cabinet Secretary of the Department of Finance and Administration. “Education in New Mexico has been underfunded for decades. We need to ensure that our schools are sufficiently-resourced to comply with the court’s order, and we need to be certain those resources are sustainable. We need to get off the oil and gas boom-to-bust roller coaster. Legislators need to look at our tax system and make sure it is fair for working families and that our revenue system is stable and sustainable.”

Transform Education NM’s platform and factsheets on the coalition’s legislation can be found here:  http://nmpovertylaw.org/our-work/education/

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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.

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