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.

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

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

Legislative Committee to hear proposed education remedies on Friday  

Reforms would assure compliance with Yazzie/Martinez court ruling

ALBUQUERQUE — On Friday, New Mexico’s Legislative Education Study Committee will hear a platform of proposed remedies that would satisfy the recent state court ruling requirements on the consolidated lawsuit Yazzie v. State of New Mexico and Martinez v. State of New Mexico, which found that the state was not providing New Mexico students with a sufficient education as required by the state constitution.

The lawsuit was 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).

Over a hundred people from across the state, including educators, advocates, tribal leaders, and families, agreed upon a 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.

The New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty and MALDEF will present to the LESC.

WHAT:    
Legislative Education Study Committee hearing on proposed remedies adhering to the recent state court ruling requirements on the consolidated lawsuit Yazzie v. State of New Mexico and Martinez v. State of New Mexico.

WHEN:
Friday, September 28 at 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m.

WHERE:   
Hawthorne Elementary School, 420 General Somervell St. NE, Albuquerque, NM

WHO:
LESC
Attorneys from New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty
Attorneys from MALDEF

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/

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/