Yazzie/Martinez Lawyers Praise Legislature’s Education Measures But Still Awaiting State’s Plan | Education

New Mexico lawmakers this month approved measures that pump hundreds of millions of dollars into teacher pay raises to ease what the state’s Department of Public Education called a crisis. of the workforce of educators.

The increases, a high priority for Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham during the recent legislative session, were also welcomed by attorneys representing plaintiffs in the landmark education lawsuit, Yazzie/Martinez v. State of New Mexico. .

The investments will help enforce a 2018 judge’s ruling in the case requiring the state to adequately fund public schools to ensure they can provide sufficient education to certain groups of at-risk students: young Native Americans, students with disabilities, low-income children and English speakers. – language learners – a large swath of the state’s public school population.

Although education advocates did not get all the funding they had hoped for in this year’s 30-day session, they said smaller appropriations awaiting the governor’s signature, many of which eclipsed by large increases in teachers, will also address some long-standing issues identified in the lawsuit.

  • $15.5 million to expand paid residency programs for those training to become teachers.
  • $1.25 million in pay equity for teachers of Indigenous languages ​​and cultures.
  • $11.5 million for teacher literacy training.
  • $3 million to boost community school programs.
  • $45 million for a K-12 Plus pilot program, which includes $2 million specifically allocated to tribal education departments.

Gwen Perea Warniment, assistant secretary of the Department of Public Education, cited a measure ensuring Native American language and culture teachers earn the same salary as Tier 1 teachers in the state’s three-tier licensing system. Rep. Derrick Lente, D-Sandia Pueblo, introduced the bill as part of a series of laws aimed at improving education for Indigenous students.

“How do you approach the people most affected by the problem? Warning said. “In that way, I would say there are pretty significant investments in educators.”

Lente said the pay equity initiative is “at the heart” of the Tribal Remedy Framework, a plan developed by tribal communities and education experts that calls for funds to be allocated directly to tribes for community education support. , such as libraries, higher education programs and initiatives to strengthen the Indigenous teaching workforce.

The $35 million investment in the framework includes an increase to the Indian Education Fund, which provides funds to tribal education departments and other schools providing instruction in Indigenous language and culture. . Lawmakers tripled the amount of the Indian Education Fund in fiscal year 2023, from $5 million to $15 million.

Lente said the job was not done. He and others have said they hope to see an overhaul of how distributions from the Indian Education Fund are made. Under the current system, which requires grant applications, communities face delays, he said.

“It creates an environment where it’s almost like we’re putting these tribal education departments in check,” Lente said.

One of the largest allocations will fund a new pilot program called K-12 Plus, which expands the existing K-5 Plus summer program for K-5 students to children of all grades. Districts can apply for funds to provide student enrichment programs, with the goal of developing partnerships with local businesses and organizations to provide learning opportunities.

Rural and predominantly Native American districts will be prioritized for the pilot program.

Warniment hopes K-12 Plus will help fill the gaps in opportunity for students from low-income households.

“High-income families have the ability to provide their children [with] museums, travel, all those things,” Warniment said. “These really support brain growth and development. There is a direct correlation between these activities and additional brain growth.

Like Lente, Warniment said there is still work to be done. In the next legislative session, she hopes to see greater investment in school health centers. A bill that would have allocated $4 million more for Medicaid reimbursements for schools died this year.

Michelle Tregembo, recently appointed ombud for special education, said she hopes to secure more funding in the future for her office, which was created by the Legislative Assembly in 2021. Tregembo helps families navigate the statewide special education programs.

There is a strong demand for his help. In the more than 50 days since taking office, she has received about 48 calls from families, she said.

Melissa Candelaria, an attorney at the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty who represents the Yazzie plaintiffs in the education lawsuit, applauded investments in teacher compensation and pay equity for tribal language teachers.

But, she said, it’s hard to say how new investments will improve the education system without a long-awaited state plan to deal with the lawsuit. The plaintiffs in the Yazzie/Martinez case are looking for a plan with concrete milestones, estimated funding levels, a timeline and estimates of staffing needs, she said. Public Education Secretary Kurt Steinhaus initially said such a plan would be ready for public review in November, but that never happened.

“In the absence of a comprehensive state education plan, there really is no targeted strategy to respond directly to the judge’s findings,” Candelaria said.

Warniment said the education plan will be made public soon; Lente and Tregembo said they had seen drafts of it in recent months.

Meanwhile, the state and the plaintiffs in the Yazzie/Martinez case are still arguing the lawsuit.

Candelaria said the plaintiffs are seeking more data from the state to determine how the terms of the ruling were met.

In May, First Judicial District Judge Matthew Wilson will schedule a hearing on whether the state should provide more information, ranging from the number of school health centers to specific categories of teaching vacancies. .

“It’s been almost four years and four legislative sessions,” Candelaria said. “And the state is far from responding to the needs of our students and far from the complete transformation of the education system ordered by the justice.”