By James Jimenez, executive director of New Mexico Voices for Children, and Edward Tabet-Cubero, executive director of the Learning Alliance of New Mexico, Albuquerque Journal
March 30, 2019

Of all the responsibilities with which we have empowered our state government, none is more important than educating our children. It also gives us the best rate of return on our investment. And it benefits us all: a well-educated workforce is the backbone of a strong economy and essential for our state’s overall well-being.

New Mexico has failed in its most important task. As the ruling in the Yazzie/Martinez v. State of New Mexico lawsuit explicitly states, New Mexico has not been providing an adequate education to all children. The judge’s decision specifies that at-risk students – including children from families with few economic resources, English learners, students with disabilities, and Native American and Hispanic students – are left behind due to the state’s failure to provide essential programs, services and funding in its K-12 education system, failure to monitor the efficacy of the programs, and failure to implement three key laws – the Indian Education, Hispanic Education and Bilingual Multicultural Education Acts.

The judge’s order is simple and straightforward. The state has a constitutional obligation to provide a sufficient education for all students. The state must come up with the resources necessary to meet students’ needs. And the state must have a way to monitor and evaluate its progress.

We are pleased Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham will not appeal the court’s decision. We were disturbed to read in the Journal’s March 22 editorial that “aggressive litigation,” in an attempt to get the judge to vacate parts of her decision, is a good use of the state’s resources and a great next step.

Lost in the bluster of the Journal’s editorial was any substantive focus on what matters most – our children!

First and foremost, we need to do what’s best for our children. Spending money and time on aggressive litigation against a court order that simply requires us to educate our children at the standard set forth in our own constitution is not what’s best for our children. Our K-12 education system needs fundamental change, and that will not occur unless we place a relentless focus on improving what’s happening in the classroom, not “winning” in the courtroom.

The governor’s metaphor of an education “moonshot” gives us a clue to what hard work it will be. Realizing the original moonshot was a long process that required a great deal of planning, testing and adapting, it also required money and political will. First, the Public Education Department needs to come up with a multicultural and multilingual framework, emphasizing our diverse students’ distinct assets, upon which all reforms will hang. It needs to revisit statutes that call for curriculum that is responsive to all children, no matter their race, ethnicity or home language. The PED needs to revisit its oversight duties regarding the use of funds at the district level. Then the PED needs to create and implement an internal evaluation system so it can determine which strategies are working and which need to be changed.

And, of course, the Legislature needs to fund our schools to a level that meets our students’ needs. This means having the courage to find stable, reliable and adequate sources of revenue. We’re not there yet. The $400 million in new funds for the coming school year simply gets us back to 2008 spending levels, which will barely allow us to build the launch pad.

Our under-performing school system isn’t the fault of the new administration. But … an emphasis on winning litigation obscures the essence of the lawsuit, which would not have been necessary if New Mexico had done right by its children in the first place.