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A big win for New Mexico children

August 6, 2018

New Mexico’s children win! The court’s decision in Yazzie/Martinez v. State of New Mexico is a testament to the great potential of New Mexico’s children. The court found what we all know to be true: New Mexico’s children have just as much capacity to learn and thrive as children anywhere.

We don’t have to be bottom in the nation for academic outcomes; we don’t have to be bottom in the nation for children’s likelihood of success; we don’t have to be bottom in the nation for child poverty. The way up is through education.

The court recognized that education is the foundation of our democracy and our economy, and that once the state meets its constitutional obligation and provides every child with a sufficient education — one that offers our children the opportunities they need to be college and career ready — we will all benefit, not just our children and families, but our economy and, therefore, the state overall.

The Yazzie case rests on two main principles. The first is that New Mexico’s children have just as much potential as children anywhere — so there is no good reason for the appalling academic outcomes. The second is that we know what we need to do to provide our children with a decent education — we’ve done the research, we’ve tried the programs, we know what programming and supports are necessary for all of New Mexico’s children to succeed.

The problem is that our state has made choices — funding choices — that have deprived our children from their constitutional right to an education that makes them college or career ready. Now, with this court decision, that is finally going to end. The state is going to have to meet its constitutional obligation to provide all students a sufficient education. The court has directed the state to put this constitutional obligation ahead of other funding concerns the state may have. In terms of state revenue, education must come first. And it cannot be short-changed.

The court found that the New Mexico Public Education Department and Legislature know what works for the large majority of our students who are low-income, English language learner or Native American: culturally and linguistically relevant instruction, extended learning opportunities and full-day pre-K education for 3- and 4-year-olds, smaller class sizes and increased teacher pay adequate to recruit and retain teachers. To date, the state hasn’t done enough on any of these fronts.

With this decision, the court has said no more excuses and is holding the state’s feet to the fire to make the changes necessary. These changes must include addressing the historic and systemic discrimination that has plagued our state’s public education system since its inception.

The court has directed the state to “to take immediate steps to ensure that New Mexico schools have the resources necessary to give at-risk students the opportunity to obtain a uniform and sufficient education that prepares them for college and career.”

When the state finally fulfills its constitutional obligation to our children, all of us will benefit because education is the basic tool we all need to lead a successful life.

Rather than continuing with an appeal, we implore the state to get to work on fixing our schools. Rather than spending millions more dollars on expensive out-of-state lawyers to fight against New Mexico’s children, let’s roll up our sleeves and get the resources and services to the schools and our children, just as the court has ordered. We stand ready to work with the state to implement the solutions that we all know work and that will benefit all of us.

Gail Evans was the lead counsel for Yazzie plaintiffs for the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty.

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