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/

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.

Landmark Education Trial Against State of New Mexico Ends

Families & School Districts Assert that Students’ Constitutional Rights are being Violated

SANTA FE, NM – Today marks the last day of testimony in an eight-week trial against the state of New Mexico, in a case that alleges the State has violated the constitutional rights of its public school students.

The consolidated lawsuit, which was filed by the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty (the Center) and MALDEF (Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund), claims that 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—of a sufficient education, in violation of the New Mexico Constitution.

“It was very clear from the defense that the State is in denial about the educational crisis that New Mexico students face,” said Marisa Bono, MALDEF Southwest Regional Counsel. “We look forward to a ruling from the Court that will force the State to stop fiddling while Rome burns, and start providing equal educational opportunities to all students.”

Through the course of the trial, a number of respected national and state experts provided testimony about how New Mexico’s public school system is in crisis. They provided data about the State’s dismal education outcomes, most notably that three out of four students cannot read or write at grade level and two-thirds cannot do math at grade level, that graduation rates are among the lowest in the nation, and a majority of New Mexico graduates are not college and career ready.

“We heard from superintendents from across the state who testified that the lack of resources and quality programs available to schools is harming their students,” said Preston Sanchez, attorney at the Center. “They can’t afford the types of programs they know work, can’t purchase up to date materials and textbooks, can’t provide sufficient afterschool programs, teacher training and even buses.”

Educators and school leaders from across the State discussed the distinct needs of New Mexico’s large population of English language learners and the importance of expanded access to quality bilingual/multicultural education programs and properly trained teachers. PED’s own expert admitted that the State does not provide oversight or monitoring for thousands of English language learners in the State.

Witness testimony addressed the ways in which historical and current injustices have led to disparate outcomes for Native students and English language learner students. Expert witnesses reiterated the need for culturally and linguistically relevant programming as an evidence-based means to improve student performance.

Furthermore, testimony was offered about what steps should be taken to fundamentally improve academic outcomes and close the achievement gap. It was virtually undisputed that high quality preschool and extended learning opportunities like the K-3 Plus Program, which adds 25 more days to the school year for elementary school students, are necessary to ensure that that low income and ELL students start school ready, yet a majority of eligible children in the State do not have access to such programs. Others spoke to the importance of wraparound services in a high poverty state like New Mexico, such as access to social workers and counselors, tutors, and on campus healthcare services that are necessary to mitigate the impact of poverty on learning

Defense witnesses testified under cross examination that the state has made policy choices over the past decade that have benefited higher income New Mexicans and corporations and resulted in a loss of hundreds of millions of dollars in state revenue every year. Defense experts also acknowledged that students who attend high-poverty schools have less access to effective teachers, but the State has failed to provide adequate resources to provide the mentoring and training that teachers need to improve, and the proper compensation for effective teacher recruitment and retention strategies.

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-McKinley, Rio Rancho, Santa Fe, Cuba, Moriarty/Edgewood, and Lake Arthur. 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. (Click here for information on the case and plaintiff profiles).

The Martinez lawsuit 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. 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. (Click here for a fact sheet on the case and a timeline of significant dates.)

The trial for the consolidated lawsuit began on June 12, 2017. It calls for 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 Center’s legal counsel on the case include Gail Evans, Preston Sanchez, Lauren Winkler, and Christopher Sanchez 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; Alejandra Avila of Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson, and David Garcia.

State District Court Judge Sarah Singleton has requested that parties submit post-trial briefing and is expected to make a ruling on the case this fall or winter.

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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 MariaA@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 Tony Marcano at (213) 629-2512 ext. 128 or amarcano@maldef.org