To be fair, following education bills during the New Mexico Legislative Session can be a moving target. But there are a few bills of note that have been filed already. New Mexico likes to pass what can only be described as landmark legislation, including the Hispanic Education Act of 1978 and the Indian Education Act of the same year, which has since been updated. These two reforms were meant, long ago, to place education as the top concern in those two communities. This was huge and still is; only a handful of states have acts that specifically look at education in these minority subsets and report back with how to make things equitable. But in the land of mañana, neither of these acts received the proper funding and lost momentum in really making substantial change.
In 2020 we still found large inequalities in our education systems and saw lawsuits like the Yazzie/Martinez v. State of New Mexico as a result. Last year HB 134 packed quite a slew of appropriations into one bill seeking to build capacity at higher education institutions. Furthermore, it was meant to create bilingual teacher preparation opportunities, developing culturally and linguistically appropriate instructional materials, expanding college and career readiness. Unfortunately, while the Legislature appropriated $103.7 million in nonrecurring, education-related appropriations, including $54.5 million in 2020 from the public education reform fund to address issues highlighted in Martinez/Yazzie, two-thirds of the money wasn’t spent by local school districts, and went back to the state’s fund.
The state moved to dismiss the Yazzie/Martinez case during the middle of the pandemic last year and was denied. The court ruled that the State of N.M. set forth to “find more facts” that substantiate the state’s claim they have met their goals of providing equal and adequate educational opportunities and access. This year we shall see another major bill be presented in this same context, riding on the heels of the dismissed 2020 HB 134. The governor has set forth her own priorities to address these issues, and ensure the money will be spent as intended.
Another bill to take note of is HB 43—Black Education Act. As mentioned above, our state has had two minority education acts in the books for the last three decades. But the African American community has been largely ignored in these discussions about education equality. HB 43 is sponsored by Rep. Sheryl Williams Stapleton (D-Albuquerque) and hopes to provide these constituents with the same sort of studies and, therefore, guided outcomes for the advancement of educational opportunities for N.M.’s Black community. It also aims to provide racial sensitivity and anti-racism training for school personnel.
HB 24 and HB 32 both call for full-time nurses in schools, but the approach and costs for each bill differ greatly. HB 24 calls for each school district to staff a full-time nurse, whereas HB 32 calls for each individual public school to staff a full-time nurse. This is a deceivingly important initiative. Alongside education, the wellness of the N.M.’s children often scores very low nationally. A nurse in some school districts may be the only medical physician some students see over a year. But to put this cost on every public school in N.M. might also be burdensome.
HB 25—LESC Study of Public & Post-Secondary Education hopes to provide for the Legislative Education Study Committee to conduct a study assessing all of N.M.’s education initiatives and what works and what doesn’t. This bill was introduced by Rep. G. Andres Romero (D-Albuquerque) has good intentions but might be hard-pressed when asked to define the data, especially if this rehashes the multiple studies that have come out of the Hispanic and Native Education Acts thus far. The language on this bill is also vague enough; it can study anything. “Conduct a continuing study of all education in New Mexico, the laws governing such education, and the policies and costs of New Mexico’s public educational system.”
The last few to keep an eye out for are HB 22, HB 27 and HB 29. HB 22 seeks paid scholarships for N.M. teachers going back to school for educational training and degrees. HB 27 makes hazing a crime on the books in N.M. Last but not least is HB 29, or the CROWN Act bill. This bill makes the discrimination or discipline of a student based on their ethnic or cultural hairstyle unlawful. This may not seem important, but as the father of a Native American boy who keeps his hair traditionally long, the remarks we often receive can hurt and dismay young people, and even adults, from doing their best at school or work.
These are just a few of the bills we will see next month in Santa Fe. The Paper. will continue to cover education initiatives at the legislature over the entirety of the 2021 session.