What progress has New Mexico made on education reform?

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Nearly four years after a landmark court ruling said New Mexico was failing to help all students learn, the people who filed the Martinez/Yazzie lawsuit are still concerned about the state’s response.

The lawsuit focused on Native Americans, English language learners, students with disabilities and economically disadvantaged children. Together, those groups make up a stunning 70-plus percent of all students.

Wilhelmina Yazzie feels the anger just as intensely as she did nearly a decade ago when she began a journey to be a champion for equity in education.

“It’s very frustrating, and not just for me, but for all the families,” Yazzie said. “We’re not going to stop fighting.”

She is one of the original plaintiffs named in the ongoing lawsuit.

“We have accepted such a substandard education system for our children, and especially for our Indigenous children,” she said. 

Her family’s experiences since a judge’s decision in 2018 have led her to a grim conclusion.

“We haven’t seen a lot of the changes we’re wanting for our children,” Yazzie said. “It’s more important than ever.”

She believes education leaders are not doing enough to find solutions.

“Go down, deep down into the communities, to really find out holistically what our children need,” Yazzie said.

She believes New Mexico has a long way to go and needs reform and improvement in many areas, including the lack of teachers, textbooks, technology, transportation, tutoring, culturally sensitive curriculum, and getting kids ready for their careers.

Last month, the state released a draft of new plans to meet the demands of the court ruling. It highlights what it sees as successes. Among them are new programs with more funding – including for pre-K – equity councils and teacher raises.

The plan also lays out goals for the next five years. Those include boosting the graduation rate from the mid-70’s to 90%, improving reading and math test scores, and lowering class sizes.

Education Department officials themselves have said there’s still a lot of work to do, though the department declined an interview for KOB 4’s story, citing an ongoing lawsuit.

There’s a public comment period on the 50-page plan draft for people to offer feedback. Anyone can send comments in an email to draft.actionplan@state.nm.us no later than Friday, June 17, at 5 p.m.

“I feel that we are on the right path, I really do,” said Dr. Veronica Garcia, a former superintendent and former education secretary.

She was involved early in the formation of the state’s new plans. She believes there is room for improvement, but that it was never going to happen overnight.

“The capacity for school districts to implement everything, they can’t necessarily ramp up that quickly,” Dr. Garcia said.

For many, waiting is difficult.

“The need is still there. It’s still great. We’re not moving fast enough,” said Melissa Candelaria, who represents plaintiffs and works for the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty.

“It’s important that the state fix the broken education system immediately. We just can’t wait. It’s taken nearly four years for this draft to come out,” she said. “Four years has been too long, and what the court required is immediate steps.”

There are more sworn interviews going on right now in the Martinez/Yazzie lawsuit.