Four years into court-mandated education reform, lawmakers review compliance

It takes time to reform a failing system.

That’s the message state lawmakers got from education officials providing updates on the Yazzie-Martinez lawsuit that’s forcing reform in New Mexico’s public schools.

It’s been four years since Judge Sarah Singleton ruled that the state failed to provide adequate education for students who are English-speaking, Indigenous, living with disabilities and in poverty.

Since then, the state has injected more than $1 billion toward districts where these students attend school, according to John Sena, deputy director of the Legislative Education Study Committee.

Residential School History Underpins Yazzie Martinez’s Findings on Indigenous Education

Yet Sena launched the Joint Interim Committee on Education and Native American Leadership on Thursday, telling lawmakers, “Despite these significant investments, however, and in part because of the effects of the COVID 19 pandemic, it is not clear whether New Mexico students, and especially those named in the lawsuit, are better off.

He went on to say that lawmakers need to look at investments to determine if money is being spent effectively and “if individual programs and initiatives are being used in a way that maximizes their impacts and improves student outcomes.”

Singleton’s decision in Yazzie-Martinez calls for financial resources to augment local school district budgets. So, Sena’s boost to lawmakers could soon play out in court.

Lawyers from the New Mexico Law and Poverty Center who represent the plaintiffs in the lawsuit told lawmakers at the meeting that a few weeks ago they concluded the discovery of a motion filed in 2020 to consider whether the state followed the court order.

This batch of information could be very telling about the state of New Mexico’s public education system and compliance with the ordinance. This can offer insight into how the influx of fresh money is being spent and whether it is helping students.

“As the legal teams of Yazzie and Martinez, we are currently in the process of reviewing all of the information we have obtained through the discovery to determine the next course of action in this matter,” said Melissa Candelaria, attorney for the plaintiffs. Yazzie. .

The state discussion draft of a strategic plan – which is still under review – is a good step, but Candelaria (San Felipe) said she wanted to see details that are consistent with the court order.

New Mexico education reform plan presented to tribal leaders

“None of us want to be in litigation forever,” she said, and plaintiffs are ready and willing to work with the Department of Public Education “to close the achievement gaps and move the “But if the state doesn’t come up with a solid plan to satisfy the court order, it may ultimately have to step in as it has done in the past.”

DEP Secretary for Identity, Equity and Transformation, Dr. Vickie Bannerman, said her staff are weighing public input on the strategic plan and expects a new draft to be ready. for review by September 30. The final plan is expected no later than November.

The most consistent public comment on the plan was that the state supported the growth of Native American student education, Bannerman said.

“Until we have absolutely done everything we can for every student that we can, we are not done. This review is therefore ongoing. It won’t stop. It is a living, breathing and changing document.

Buses full of new educators

Lawmakers also received an update on whether teacher hiring and salary increases have helped fill more than 1,000 teaching vacancies at schools across the state.

PED Secretary Kurt Steinhaus said he investigated each of the state’s 89 school districts and reported that more than 300 new teachers were in New Mexico’s public schools.

“If you imagine 50 school buses right here in front of this school full of teachers, that’s the number of additional teachers this year who are laid off and fully prepared in our classrooms this year,” he said.

However, there may be no one driving these buses. Steinhaus said bus drivers are in greatest need of school support staff.

In class, he stressed that the state needed more specialized teachers.

Steinhaus said his staff have undertaken a review of the work required for teachers that is separate from classroom instruction. He said they identified the redundant paperwork teachers had to file, either with the state or their district, and found a way to reduce it by 40%.

The push to tap into NM’s permanent land grant fund for education

He argued that this was part of meeting Yazzie-Martinez demands to provide more instructional time in the classroom and “give teachers more time to spend with their students and their families.”

This balance is necessary, particularly in the neighborhoods targeted by the lawsuit. As Sena pointed out in his presentation, “very poor schools in New Mexico have a disproportionately high number of substandard teachers. The quality of education for students at risk is insufficient.

“Failure is expensive”

Many of the biggest legislative victories in education reform under the Yazzie-Martinez order have come from Rep. Derrick Lente (D-Sandia).

He passed a bill to increase funding for traditional language instructors, found ways to create autonomy for tribal education departments, and won millions in funding for tribal library systems.

Lente is working to implement the Tribal Remedy Framework, an initiative introduced in 2019 and endorsed by all 23 tribes in New Mexico.

During his presentation on Thursday, he asked for more.

“Failure is expensive. I brought that to the table,” he said. “Our children’s failure in the Yazzie-Martinez plaintiffs’ trial is costly, and it will continue to be costly.”

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To match costs and avoid demands for appropriation that he sees as “nickel and pennies,” Lente pitched the idea of ​​creating a tribal education trust fund that could be modeled on the grants that the State has already obtained. For example, oil and gas royalties go into permanent funds and contribute up to $1 billion a year to state operations.

Part of the Tribal Education Trust Fund is said to come from Indian Education Act appropriations, which rose significantly last year — from $1 million a year to $15 million — in part because of Lente’s lobbying efforts.

Lente is proposing a start of at least $200 million, and most of it should come from the Legislative Assembly.

The fund would require legislative approval, and Lente said his endowment vision “would provide annual distributions to tribes that will be based on a formula to come.”

He would like it to be used to support Tribal Remedy Framework policies that build systems like teacher pipelines and curricula at universities like UNM and tribal colleges.

“Revenue is available,” Lente said. “This year again, we have historic revenues.

Norma A. Roth