New Mexico releases draft plan to address education lawsuit

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico officials have released a draft plan to address an ongoing education lawsuit brought by underserved K-12 students, and education advocates and tribal leaders are expected to comb through the document in the coming days.

The New Mexico Public Education Department says it’s looking for feedback on the plan, which is intended to address a 2018 state court ruling that has dominated education policy and funding discussions among state lawmakers ever since.

In 2018, the court concluded the state has fallen short of its constitutional duty to provide an “adequate” education, at least to some 70% of K-12 students, including Native Americans, English learners, and those who come from low-income families or have disabilities. The court said students had unequal access to qualified teachers, quality school buildings, and other lessons that engage them tailored to their cultural background and needs.

The 55-page “Martinez/Yazzie Discussion Draft Action Plan” is named for the mothers of students who sued the state separately, and combined in a lawsuit in 2015. The draft plan outlines targets for improving the diversity of teachers by 20%, increasing graduation rates by 15%, and increasing reading and math proficiency by 50% for groups identified in the lawsuit by 2025, compared to 2019 levels.

It also catalogs changes the administration has made so far, including major salary raises for teachers, and improved social studies standards.

“The Martinez/Yazzie Discussion Draft Action Plan is not just a plan for the future; it also reflects all the work that’s taken place since the beginning of this administration, and it challenges all of us with strong performance targets to move the needle on key student outcomes,” said Secretary of Education Kurt Steinhaus.

In 2020, a state judge denied a request by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham to dismiss the lawsuit. The same judge ruled in 2021 that many of the vulnerable students weren’t being provided computers and internet sufficient for them to participate in remote learning, despite efforts by education officials to deploy Wi-Fi hot spots and secure laptops for many students.

The education department had promised to release the draft in December, before the state Legislature’s annual meeting that determines education funding, but didn’t do so, to the chagrin of tribal leaders. The budgets passed earlier this year.

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Attanasio is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues. Follow Attanasio on Twitter.

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