Our children are our future, it’s our job to do right by them

By Wilhelmina Yazzie
Wilhelmina Yazzie (Diné) is the inaugural recipient of the National Education Association’s Wilma Mankiller Memorial Award. It is one of 11 NEA Human and Civil Rights awards, the organization’s highest and most prestigious awards, honoring exemplary individuals and organizations in education work. Ms. Yazzie lives in Gallup, New Mexico and is the parent of three children. She is a named plaintiff in the landmark education lawsuit, Yazzie/Martinez v. State of New Mexico. 

My mother and grandmother’s teachings are my greatest motivators in life. They taught me that in our Diné culture, children are sacred and it’s our responsibility to prepare them for “iina’,” what we call “life” in Navajo. My grandmother raised me to be proud of my culture, where I’m from and who I am. My late mother, an educator for 30 years, taught me to do what I could for all of the children in our community, not just my own. 

That’s why it’s so meaningful to me and such an honor to be chosen as the first recipient of the National Education Association’s Wilma Mankiller Memorial Award. She fought for equal rights for Native American people and is one of the most influential Indigenous leaders of our time. Her work toward equity in schools is a huge inspiration. She is someone who has done such impactful work for our people. She left a great legacy to follow. 

For a long time, I have been concerned that my children, and all children, were not getting the education they need. They weren’t even getting the basics, much less a culturally relevant education. They still aren’t.

When we go to school our background and culture isn’t included or represented, there’s a sense of confusion. The same pattern of not being accepted and feeling like we don’t belong in the public school system has been repeated for generations. These are the relics from the boarding and residential schools and the forced assimilation era that we’re still fighting today. 

I didn’t think anyone would listen to my concerns about education. Then I learned that New Mexico’s children have a constitutional right to a sufficient education and that there are protections for students who are Native American, Hispanic, English Language Learners, low-income, and children with disabilities. I joined the Yazzie v. State of New Mexico lawsuit, and I decided to speak out.

It’s been three years since we won, but we’re still not where we should be. Despite the legal victory and the years of work and building with other families and allies, we’re still fighting for an equitable education that meets the needs of all our children. 

It’s time for our leaders to be courageous and make real changes for our kids. All across the country, people are standing up against the inequities caused by hundreds of years of systemic racism. It’s time for our state to stop fighting the lawsuit and instead address the inequities in our schools.

As we continue this work, I’m hopeful that all the attention that has been brought to this case and to our education system will lead to the state making the meaningful changes that our students need now and deserve. 

I’m grateful and humbled beyond words to receive this award on behalf of the children—my own and all of the children across our state—and the other families and school districts who are part of this lawsuit and standing up on behalf of their communities. 

Like my grandmother and mother would always say, “Our children are our future.” It’s our job to do right by them.

Court orders state to provide students the technology they need

SANTA FE—First Judicial District Court Judge Matthew Wilson ordered the state to provide computers and high-speed internet access to the thousands of “at-risk” students who lack these necessary tools to access remote learning now and post pandemic. The ruling came during a hearing in the landmark Yazzie/Martinez education case on a Yazzie plaintiff motion addressing technology gaps among the state’s students.

At the hearing, Judge Wilson said, “The court ruled that defendants must comply with their duty to provide an adequate education and may not conserve financial resources at the expense of our constitution.” 

Wilson added, “Children who are lacking access to internet and technology for remote learning are not getting much of an education, if at all, let alone one that is sufficient to make them college and career ready.”

“Lack of access has been catastrophic for far too many New Mexican families because of the state’s failure to address the technology gaps, especially for Native students and students living in rural areas,” said Preston Sanchez an attorney representing the Yazzie plaintiffs who argued the plaintiffs’ motion in court today. “Thousands of students are being denied their constitutionally required education sufficient to become college and career ready. Many are getting no education at all. The state has to be accountable to New Mexico’s students and families and make access to their education a priority.”

The court ordered the state to immediately:

  • Determine which at-risk students and their teachers do not have a dedicated digital device and immediately provide one or ensure that one is provided to each of these students and their teachers. 
  • Determine which at-risk students do not have access to high-speed internet that will allow them to work from home and immediately provide them with access to a high-speed service and when necessary, transportation to access it.
  • Provide school districts with funding for sufficient qualified IT staff to support and maintain digital devices, cellular hotspots, and community Wi-Fi locations, and other remote learning needs.

In 2018, in the Yazzie/Martinez v. State of New Mexico lawsuit, the court ordered the state to provide a sufficient education to all public school students. The state was required to immediately direct resources to remedy the failures in its education system, because the court recognized students—especially Native students, English language learners, students from low-income families, and students with disabilities—would be irreparably harmed if the state did not act swiftly.

The court noted that access to technology, including computers and related infrastructure, is essential to a sufficient education.

“This is a great day for New Mexico’s children,” said Melissa Candelaria, a senior attorney at the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty, which represents the Yazzie plaintiffs. “The judge’s ruling comes as a huge relief to so many families. Our children deserve a gold standard education but they cannot even participate in school without access to technology. Many students are not back at school and internet services are unavailable, especially in rural districts and districts serving predominantly Native American students. Even when students come back into the physical classroom, technology will continue to be a necessity.” 

According to the PED, nearly 50 percent of public school students will continue remote learning for the remainder of the school year. Many Native American students will continue remote learning per tribal public health orders to keep their communities safe.

An estimated 23 percent of the New Mexico population lack broadband internet service. An estimated 80 percent of Native Americans living on tribal lands in New Mexico do not have internet services at all.       

“There are far too many students in New Mexico who have not had access to education for an entire year,” said Alisa Diehl, a senior attorney with the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty. “It is simply unacceptable that the state allow them to continue to fall even further behind. The state needs to take action immediately to make sure New Mexico’s students get the education they need and deserve.”

A video on the difficulties New Mexico students have accessing education because of technology can be found here: https://youtu.be/H-i7JW7xKLg

The motion can be found here: http://nmpovertylaw.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/Yazzie-Tech-Motion-With-Exhibits-1-6-Final.2020-12-15.pdf

New exhibits from the Yazzie plaintiffs can be found here:
http://nmpovertylaw.org/yazzie-notice-of-additional-exhibits-with-exhibits/

The final ruling in the lawsuit can be found here: http://nmpovertylaw.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/D-101-CV-2014-00793-Final-Judgment-and-Order-NCJ-1.pdf

Yazzie plaintiffs ask court to order state to provide students computers and internet access

SANTA FE—Yazzie plaintiffs in the landmark Yazzie/Martinez education lawsuit asked the First Judicial District Court today to order the State of New Mexico to provide computers and high-speed internet access to the thousands of “at-risk” students who lack these necessary tools for remote learning. 

“Many children in New Mexico, especially those in rural districts and districts serving predominantly Native American students, don’t have computers or high-speed internet access and have been effectively denied access to public education since the pandemic started, worsening existing education inequities,” said Melissa Candelaria, a senior attorney at the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty, which represents the Yazzie plaintiffs.

In 2018, in the Yazzie/Martinez v. State of New Mexico lawsuit, the court ordered the state to provide a sufficient education to all public school students.

The state was required to immediately direct resources to remedy the failures in its education system, because the court recognized students—especially Native students, English language learners, students from low-income families, and students with disabilities—would be irreparably harmed if the state did not act swiftly. 

The court noted that access to technology, including computers and related infrastructure, is essential to a sufficient education.  

An estimated 23 percent of the New Mexico population lacks broadband internet service. An estimated 80 percent of Native Americans living on tribal lands in New Mexico do not have internet services at all. 

“During the COVID-19 pandemic, lack of access has been catastrophic for far too many New Mexican families because of the state’s failure to address the technology gaps,”  said Alisa Diehl, a senior attorney with the Center. “The state has to be accountable to New Mexico’s students and families and make access to their education a priority.”

Diehl continued, “Had the state complied with the 2018 court order, many more students would be able to access remote learning right now. Unfortunately, the state has spent its time and resources trying to dismiss the lawsuit. Nine months into the pandemic, too many students have received little to no education at all. This is utterly unacceptable. The state needs to take action immediately to make sure New Mexico’s students get the education they need and deserve.”

The motion can be found here: http://nmpovertylaw.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/Yazzie-Tech-Motion-With-Exhibits-1-6-Final.2020-12-15.pdf

The final ruling in the lawsuit can be found here: http://nmpovertylaw.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/D-101-CV-2014-00793-Final-Judgment-and-Order-NCJ-1.pdf

Attorneys for the Yazzie plaintiffs include Melissa Candelaria, Alisa Diehl of the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty, Preston Sanchez of ACLU-NM, and Dan Yohalem.

Yazzie/Martinez education lawsuit moves forward!

SANTA FE—First Judicial District Court Judge Matthew Wilson denied the State of New Mexico’s motion to dismiss the landmark Yazzie/Martinez ruling today, which found that the state was violating the public school students’ right to a sufficient education. The judge noted that the state, by its own admission, is not fulfilling its constitutional duty to provide a sufficient education to all students.

The judge stated, “The state cannot be deemed to have complied with this court’s order until it shows that the necessary programs and reforms are being provided to all at risk students to ensure that they have the opportunity to be college and career ready. There is a lack of evidence in this case that the defendants have substantially satisfied this court’s express orders regarding all at risk students. The court’s injunction requires comprehensive educational reform that demonstrates substantial improvement of student outcomes so that students are actually college and career ready.”

The judge continued, “The court agrees with the plaintiffs’ counsel that to dismiss this action now while implementation and compliance are merely in their initial stages would undermine the years of work by this court and the parties and leave the children of New Mexico in an educational system that may be below constitutional standards.”

The judge also stated that “the court will maintain jurisdiction in this case until defendants have actually overhauled the system and complied with the constitutional requirements.” 

In reaction to the decision today, Wilhelmina Yazzie, a plaintiff in the Yazzie lawsuit said “In our culture, children are sacred, and I’m overjoyed that the fight for their education will go on. Even before the pandemic, our schools were not getting what they needed. There weren’t enough books to go around then and now it’s even worse. Our teachers are doing all they can, but they can’t even reach all their students because so many families, especially those that live in rural areas, don’t have internet access. Unfortunately, we just can’t trust the state to do the right thing without the court intervening.” 

Yazzie continued, “It’s time for our leaders to be courageous and make real changes for our kids. All across the country, people are standing up against the inequities caused by hundreds of years of systemic racism. It’s time for our state to stop fighting the lawsuit and instead address the inequities in our schools.”

Judge Wilson approved a motion from the Martinez plaintiffs that allows time for discovery of evidence to investigate the state’s compliance with the court ruling.

Yazzie plaintiffs also asked the court at the hearing to order the state to develop a comprehensive plan to overhaul the public education system. The judge decided not to order a plan now and will wait to entertain the motion until after discovery is completed and more information is available. 

In 2018, the court ordered the state to provide educational programs, services, and funding to schools to prepare students so they are college and career ready. In October 2019, the Yazzie Plaintiffs filed a motion asking the court to order the state to develop a plan to come into compliance with the court’s ruling. In March 2020, the state filed a motion asking the court to dismiss the Yazzie/Martinez v. State of New Mexico lawsuit. The Yazzie case was brought on behalf of families and six school districts. 

Almost two years have passed since the landmark court ruling but very little has changed for students and families at the heart of the case – low-income families, students with disabilities, English language learners, and Native American students, who collectively make up roughly 80% of the New Mexico student population.

In their motion for a compliance plan the Yazzie plaintiffs provided the court evidence that almost two years after the court’s ruling students still lack access to technology and culturally relevant materials; thousands of English language learners lack certified teachers; extended learning and summer school still is not available for all students who need these programs; more than 25,000 three- and four-year-olds still don’t have access to quality Pre-K; and the state still fails to fund or implement the Bilingual Multicultural Education Act (1973), the Indian Education Act (2003), or the Hispanic Education Act (2010).

“We are relieved that the case will continue. Education costs a lot more during a health crisis. We didn’t have the support we needed before COVID-19, but now we really are in crisis,” said Mike Hyatt, Superintendent of Gallup McKinley County Schools. “Without question, student learning in our district, which is predominantly Native American, and across New Mexico will suffer this coming year because the state is not funding school districts based on our needs.”

The state’s motion to dismiss the case argued that the court should trust the state government, legislators, and the governor to fix the school system. Yazzie plaintiffs argued that politics have failed our children for many years and the state continues to violate the law even after three legislative sessions since the landmark court ruling. 

At the recent special session, the legislature passed a budget that underfunds education overall and will force schools to choose between spending on necessary changes to keep kids safe and able to continue learning during the COVID-19 pandemic or basic things like instructional materials and adequate salaries for educators. The federal CARES Act money will not cover all the COVID-related costs such as protective equipment for staff and students, reconfiguring bathrooms, ensuring more teaching staff in school, and online instruction, yet the legislature wants it to also be used for basic education programs.

“The pandemic is compounding deep and ongoing educational inequities that are a direct result of decades of complacency by the state that continued even after the court ruling,” said Preston Sanchez, an attorney with ACLU-NM working in cooperation with New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty that represents the Yazzie plaintiffs. (Sanchez was formerly staff with the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty when the litigation began). “Now more than ever, it’s important that the court continues to ensure the state is accountable to New Mexico’s students and families.”

A few days ago, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, released its annual report on child well being: New Mexico again ranks last.  

The Yazzie plaintiffs’ response brief with exhibits—including declarations in opposition to State of New Mexico’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit by the All Pueblo Council of Governors, Mescalero Apache Tribe, Navajo Nation’s Department of Dine Education, and Jicarilla Apache Nation (Exhibits A-D, pages 48-55)—can be found here: http://nmpovertylaw.org/yazzie-plaintiffs-response-states-mtd-with-exhibits-a-j-2020-05-01/

The February 2019 final judgment and order in the lawsuit can be found here: http://nmpovertylaw.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/D-101-CV-2014-00793-Final-Judgment-and-Order-NCJ-1.pdf

Hearing on Yazzie/Martinez education lawsuit to take place Monday

Plaintiffs will argue continued court oversight is necessary

SANTA FE—On Monday, June 29, in a video court hearing, Yazzie plaintiffs will argue that it is critical the court continue to hold the state accountable to the landmark 2018 court ruling that found the state was violating students’ rights to a sufficient education. They will also argue that the State of New Mexico should be required to develop a comprehensive plan to overhaul the public education system.

The hearing will be before Judge Matthew Wilson of the First Judicial District Court. 

The state filed a motion to dismiss the case in March even though, by its own admission, the state is not fulfilling its constitutional duty to provide a sufficient education to all students.

WHAT:
Hearing on plaintiff and defendant motions in Yazzie/Martinez v. State of New Mexico 


WHO:

  • Judge Matthew Wilson
  • Counsel for Yazzie plaintiffs, New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty cooperating attorneys 
  • Counsel for Martinez plaintiffs, Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF) attorneys
  • Counsel for the State of New Mexico

WHEN: 
Monday, June 29, 2020, 1:00 – 5:00 p.m.

REMOTE ACCESS TO COURT PROCEEDINGS:
Because of the COVID-19 health crisis, in person viewing of the hearing is not available. 

Access by telephone:

  • 1-316-536-0667
  • Pin:  956818702#

Access by video: 

The Yazzie plaintiffs’ reply brief with exhibits—including declarations in opposition to State of New Mexico’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit by the All Pueblo Council of Governors, Mescalero Apache Tribe, Navajo Nation’s Department of Dine Education, and Jicarilla Apache Nation (Exhibits A-D, pages 48-55)—can be found here: http://nmpovertylaw.org/yazzie-plaintiffs-response-states-mtd-with-exhibits-a-j-2020-05-01/

The final ruling in the lawsuit can be found here: http://nmpovertylaw.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/D-101-CV-2014-00793-Final-Judgment-and-Order-NCJ-1.pdf

The Case for Education Equity in New Mexico

Education is fundamental to our future, but our students don’t have equal opportunities in our school system—a reality aggravated by the COVID-19 crisis. Now more ever, we need to fight for the public schools New Mexico’s students need and deserve. 

A new video on the landmark Yazzie lawsuit makes it clear why we must transform our education system now.

The Case for Education Equity in New Mexico follows the personal story of parent turned education advocate Wilhelmina Yazzie. Her story is one of love and perseverance, culture and language, and the reality of how opportunity gaps harm New Mexico and its children. 

Every child deserves to graduate ready for college and career and to pursue their dreams. This was the reason Wilhelmina, along with other families and school districts across New Mexico, brought the lawsuit against the state for violating students’ constitutional right to a sufficient education.

The video is especially timely now. Last week, on behalf of the Yazzie plaintiffs, our legal team responded to the state’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit. The legal brief argued that court oversight is essential to protecting students’ constitutional right to an equitable education and that the state should be required to develop a comprehensive plan to overhaul the public education system as soon as possible.

There will be a hearing June 29 on the Yazzie plaintiffs’ and state’s motions.

Watch the video and share it with your networks and on social media these next few days and through the date of the hearing.

Court oversight is essential to protecting students’ constitutional right to education, charge Yazzie plaintiffs

SANTA FE—The State of New Mexico, by its own admission, is not fulfilling its constitutional duty to provide a sufficient education to all students and should be required to develop a comprehensive plan to overhaul the public education system as soon as possible, charged the Yazzie plaintiffs in a brief filed today with the First Judicial District Court. The brief argues that it is critical the court continue to hold the state accountable to the 2018 landmark court ruling that found the state was violating students’ rights. 

The brief was in response to the state’s motion, filed mid March, asking the court to dismiss the Yazzie/Martinez v. State of New Mexico lawsuit. The Yazzie case was brought on behalf of families and six school districts. 

“In the best and worst of times, education is fundamental to our future. Now more than ever, with an uncertain economy and an upcoming special legislative session, we need the court to ensure the state is accountable to New Mexico’s students and families,” said Gail Evans, lead counsel for the Yazzie plaintiffs. “Almost two years have passed since the court ruling but very little has changed for students and families at the heart of the case–low-income families, students with disabilities, English language learners, and Native American students, who collectively make up roughly 80% of the New Mexico student population.”  

“The state’s lack of action has been laid bare by the COVID-19 crisis, which has further aggravated the deep and ongoing educational inequities across New Mexico,” continued Evans. “Our public education system still lacks the basic infrastructure necessary to provide equitable access to technology and reliable internet, much less culturally and linguistically appropriate instructional materials. The state needs to act now to transform our schools. It’s failure to do so has caused irreparable harm to students and the future of our state.”

In addition to the lack of technology access and culturally relevant materials, the brief provides evidence that thousands of English language learners still lack certified teachers; extended learning and summer school still is not available for all students who need them; more than 25,000 three- and four-year-olds still don’t have access to quality Pre-K; and the state still fails to fund or implement the Bilingual Multicultural Education Act (1973), the Indian Education Act (2003), and the Hispanic Education Act (2010).

The state’s motion to dismiss the case argues that the court should trust the state government, legislators, and the governor to fix the school system. Yazzie plaintiffs argue that politics have failed our children and trusting the state to follow its own laws has not worked in the last several decades or in the last two legislative sessions after the landmark court ruling. 

The Yazzie brief states, “Considering that the State has not fulfilled its duties before this Court intervened, it certainly cannot be left on its own to fulfill its duties now that the Court has found that the Constitutional rights are at stake. Rather than spending its time drafting long motions to dismiss for this Court, the State could have been developing a compliance plan for this Court.

There will be a hearing June 29 on the Yazzie plaintiffs’ and state’s motions.

The reply brief can be found here: http://nmpovertylaw.org/yazzie-plaintiffs-response-states-mtd-with-exhibits-a-j-2020-05-01/

The final ruling in the lawsuit can be found here: http://nmpovertylaw.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/D-101-CV-2014-00793-Final-Judgment-and-Order-NCJ-1.pdf

State admits students lack a sufficient education in motion to dismiss Yazzie/Martinez lawsuit

ALBUQUERQUE—In a motion asking the First Judicial District Court to dismiss the Yazzie/Martinez v. State of New Mexico lawsuit on Friday, the state acknowledged it continues to violate students’ right to a sufficient education. Legal counsel for the Yazzie plaintiff families pledge to continue litigation to hold the state accountable to comply with the court’s landmark ruling.  

The following can be attributed to Gail Evans, lead counsel for the Yazzie plaintiffs in the Yazzie/Martinez v. State of New Mexico lawsuit.

“The state knows it must make comprehensive changes to fix the education system for our students, but over a year and a half since the ruling, little to nothing has changed for the students at the heart of the case—low-income, English language learners, Native American, and students with disabilities, who account for about 80% of New Mexico’s student population. 

“In asking the judge to dismiss the case, the state does not argue that it has fixed our schools. The state simply can’t refute the stark fact that it has a very long way to go to provide our students with a sufficient education. Despite two legislative sessions since the court ruled, the state has not come close to adequately addressing long running problems. 

“We cannot expect that the political system will simply shift course and do right by our students. The court has to intervene when politics fail, and politics have clearly failed New Mexico’s children for decades. As long as the state does not provide children the educational opportunities they need, the Yazzie plaintiffs will continue to fight for our students.”

There will be a hearing on the Yazzie plaintiffs’ motion to hold the state in compliance with the court’s order and develop a plan on March 27 before Judge Matthew Wilson.

The Yazzie plaintiff’s reply brief in Yazzie/Martinez v. State of New Mexico can be found here: http://nmpovertylaw.org/yazzie-plaintiffs-reply-compliance-motion-2020-01-31/

Reply brief exhibits can be found here: http://nmpovertylaw.org/exhibits-for-yazzie-reply-brief-2020-01-31/

A report by economist Steve Barro on public education funding trends in New Mexico can be found here:  http://nmpovertylaw.org/report-nm-edu-funding-trends-barro-2020-01-30/

The final ruling in the lawsuit can be found here: http://nmpovertylaw.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/D-101-CV-2014-00793-Final-Judgment-and-Order-NCJ-1.pdf

Education funding & teacher pay do not meet pre-recession levels, charge Yazzie plaintiffs

Brief states New Mexico students still do not have the educational opportunities they need

SANTA FE—Every New Mexico student has a constitutional right to a sufficient education, but the state still fails to provide children the educational opportunities they need, charge Yazzie plaintiffs from the Yazzie/Martinez v. State of New Mexico lawsuit. The reply brief, filed with the First Judicial District Court today, provides evidence that New Mexico public schools have less spendable funding and lower teacher pay than in 2008 when adjusted for inflation. 

“While education spending increased last year, a large portion of that money couldn’t be spent and we still haven’t caught up with 2008 levels of per student spending,” said Gail Evans, lead counsel for the Yazzie plaintiffs. “School districts have been forced to use money meant for at-risk students to keep their doors open in the 2019-2020 school year.”

Evans added, “New Mexico also still has a severe shortage of teachers. The teacher raises and budget increase simply were not enough. It’s urgent that our state overhaul our education system. Our kids can’t wait another year.”

In the 2019 New Mexico State Legislature, school districts had raised numerous concerns that they would not be able to use much of the 16% education funding increase due to the rigid requirements on how to spend the appropriations for K-5 Plus and the Extended Learning Time Program. 

When districts allocated funds for the mandated and necessary educator raises, they did not have enough funding to provide the basic requirements for low-income, special education, English language learners and Native American students. In fact, many districts were forced to cut basic programs like reading intervention and unable to provide sufficient professional development, instructional materials, social services, transportation, and other programs and services.

However, the modest raises were still not enough to make New Mexico teacher salaries competitive with neighboring states. School districts are still seeing its teachers exit the profession and leave for better salaries. 

“Make no mistake, even if our education funding had reached 2008 levels, New Mexico would still have a long way to go to provide our kids with the education they need and are legally entitled to,” said Evans. “In 2008 our funding was insufficient and our state’s education outcomes ranked at or near the bottom nationally, and that continues today.” 

The reply brief completes the Yazzie plaintiffs’ motion they filed at the end of October 2019. It asked the court to order the state to develop a plan with deadlines and funding sources to show how the state is going to bring the education system into compliance with our constitution, which guarantees all students the opportunity to be ready for college or career. 

A report by economist Steve Barro on public education funding trends in New Mexico can be found here:  http://nmpovertylaw.org/report-nm-edu-funding-trends-barro-2020-01-30/

The Yazzie plaintiff’s reply brief in Yazzie/Martinez v. State of New Mexico can be found here: http://nmpovertylaw.org/yazzie-plaintiffs-reply-compliance-motion-2020-01-31/

Reply brief exhibits can be found here: http://nmpovertylaw.org/exhibits-for-yazzie-reply-brief-2020-01-31/

The final ruling in the lawsuit can be found here: http://nmpovertylaw.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/D-101-CV-2014-00793-Final-Judgment-and-Order-NCJ-1.pdf

Yazzie plaintiffs call on state to develop transformative education plan

SANTA FE—New Mexico students still lack the basics necessary for a constitutionally sufficient education, charged the Yazzie plaintiffs of the landmark education lawsuit, Yazzie/Martinez v. State of New Mexico in a motion filed with the First Judicial District Court today. The motion asks the court to order the state to develop, implement, and fully fund a long-term plan that will meet the state’s constitutional mandate that guarantees all public school students the opportunity to be college and career ready.

“New Mexico has a historical opportunity, and a constitutional obligation, to transform our education system by building a multicultural educational framework and providing all students the opportunities they need to be ready for college or career,” said Gail Evans, lead counsel for the Yazzie plaintiffs in the lawsuit brought the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty. “It’s been almost a year and a half since the Yazzie/Martinez decision, but the state still lacks a concrete, long term plan that would put us on the right path for a constitutionally sufficient education, along with necessary funding. New Mexico’s students need action now. We are asking the court to order the state to take immediate action to comply with the court’s order.”   

In July 2018, Judge Sarah Singleton ruled that the state is violating public school students’ rights—especially low-income, students of color, English language learners, and students with disabilities—to a sufficient and uniform education. She ordered the state to take immediate action to overhaul the state’s education system.

The 2019 New Mexico Legislature did not do enough to comply with the Yazzie/Martinez decision. As a result, school districts were unable to provide the programming and supports for at risk students like bilingual education and social services. In fact, many districts were forced to cut basic programs like reading intervention and drop-out/truancy prevention, and cannot meet the demand for pre-K programs.

“Cuba Schools serves predominantly Native American students, but we still lack the funds to provide culturally relevant curriculum and language support,” said Dr. Karen Sanchez-Griego, superintendent of Cuba Independent School District, a plaintiff in the Yazzie lawsuit. “We also can’t provide adequate programming to our students with disabilities or transportation services to get students to and from tutoring, summer school, and after-school programs. We need to make real changes to our education system now to give all our children—and our state—an opportunity to succeed.”

The motion argues that 2019 education legislation did not comply with the court order by failing 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;
  • Make pre-K, summer school, after-school programs, reading specialists, and smaller class sizes available to all children who need them;
  • 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; and
  • Adequately increase the transportation budget to ensure all students have the opportunity to participate in after-school and summer programs.

“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 a son 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 any more time. Our children are the future of New Mexico, and they are sacred.”

The 2019 New Mexico State Legislature increased education funding, 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.

The Legislature increased funding for extended learning, through the K-5 Plus and the Extended Learning programs, but ignored multiple warnings that school districts would not be able to use much of the increase due to rigid requirements imposed by the state. 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.

“We need to do what’s right for our students, and we need sufficient funding and flexibility to do it,” said Dr. V. Sue Cleveland, superintendent of Rio Rancho Public Schools, a plaintiff in the Yazzie lawsuit. “We have had to cut important instructional positions such as reading interventionists and coaches, and we remain unable to provide sufficient professional development, instructional materials, transportation, and other programs and services our kids truly need.”

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 order. Most of the programs and funding in the platform, supported by plaintiffs, were blocked by legislative leaders and died in committees.

Attorneys on the case include lead counsel Gail Evans, Daniel Yohalem, and Lauren Winkler and Preston Sanchez with the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty.

The motion can be found here: http://nmpovertylaw.org/motion-yazzie-plaintiffs-motion-for-compliance-2019-10-30/

Exhibits for the motion can be found here: http://nmpovertylaw.org/exhibits-yazzie-motion-for-compliance-2019-10-30/

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