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A new report put out by the Tribal Education Alliance backs up the landmark Yazzie/Martinez v. State of New Mexico education reform mandate as a way to correct the inequities in the education system in the state.

Yazzie Changes Education

Back in 2014 when Republican Gov. Susana Martinez was in power, Wilhelmina Yazzie, a mom with a kid in the Gallup-McKinley school district, filed a lawsuit saying that the state had not fulfilled its duty to provide equally to each underserved public school student a college- and career-ready education. “Underserved” are those students who are in poverty-stricken neighborhoods, Native American students, Hispanic students, students with disabilities and English language learners.

In 2018 a First Judicial District Court judge agreed with Ms. Yazzie, and the judge’s ruling found that the state Public Education Department was guilty of not being able to provide a sufficient education to all public school students. In 2020, New Mexico’s Legislature appropriated enough funding to the public schools to allow all high-need elementary schools to participate in K-5 Plus and for one-third of all schools to participate in Extended Learning Time Programs. The Extended Learning Time Programs included after-school programs and professional development for teachers throughout the year. However, not all school districts and charter schools were prepared to offer the programs–with some arguing that the programs were too restrictive–and two-thirds of the money reverted back to the state.

In December of 2020, the court was asked again to make the state comply as soon as possible. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there is even more unfairness in the education system thanks to the lack of technology underserved populations are now faced with, having to deal with online education.

New Words On An Old Problem

The Tribal Education Alliance report, titled Pathways to Education Sovereignty: Taking a Stand For Native Children, says that the state’s education policies, from early childhood through college, are producing disparate outcomes for students. These outcomes are threatening the future of all underserved students—especially those from tribal communities.

The report says that if the state follows Yazzie/Martinez it would be a huge step toward addressing the inequities. It goes on to say that the best way to address the inequities is through legislation that will transform the education system. The report also puts some blame on the lack of tribal control and the lack of Indigenous teachers. It also outlines solutions to these problems, such as developing programs to help build a Native teacher pipeline, adding more community-based education and the development of a balanced yet culturally and linguistically relevant education.

So What’s Next?

The governor’s proposed budget proposes $1,000,000 to work with Tribal education departments to develop a bilingual culturally appropriate early childhood curriculum for Tribal students. It also includes an additional $8 million for Public Education accountability, which should ensure that money appropriated is actually spent. Education eyes will be on the upcoming legislative session to see which bills will address complying with the Yazzie ruling. There is a hearing set for June 29 to hear the motion about getting technology out to underserved schools, pronto.

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