Before the Martínez vs. N.M. education lawsuit, there was one small voice, a small voice that has been in the heart of every child advocate in New Mexico.
Teachers have talked about those children that want to go home with them; parents have witnessed their children’s defeat with a system that cannot provide the adequate resources for children on either side of the special education spectrum. The voices of our children have been the driving force for many educational reform advocates crying out for change for decades. These are the voices that drive many teachers to work late, provide their own supplies and give what we once knew as value plus service.
These voices, while sometimes silenced by despair, have brought about the rise of charter schools that truly want to see children succeed. The many non-profits that seek ways to give light to solutions. The parents that work two and three jobs to pay for private school, or those who sacrifice additional income and home school their children. Individuals who run for office dedicated to make an impact through policies. We have all heard those voices.
We have also witnessed what I call passive-aggressive solutions: placing children in special education because there was not ample support to pull them from a slump. No-tolerance policies that marginalize children and send them onto paths which lead to the increase of the drop-out rate. We must do the right thing.
I heard the voices of my children and my grandchildren; thus the four Martinez grandchildren became the main plaintiffs of the lawsuit. This endeavor took almost a decade. Our greatest thanks goes to the MALDEF attorneys, the Garcia firm in Santa Fe and the many other pro-bono attorneys who prepared for this battle.
And so Judge Sarah Singleton ruled our children were not receiving a sufficient education; an education that prepares them to enter college or the workforce. The lawsuit hit all points that impact the achievement-gap measures to achieve sufficiency.
This lawsuit is no ordinary lawsuit, it is monumental. America is watching. As I continue connecting with seasoned and fresh education reform advocates, the question asked by several has been, “Who does this lawsuit belong to?” Let’s be real clear, the plaintiffs are the children. Some individuals have dared to say that the lawsuit simply identifies a small group of children, identified as “at risk” or “impoverished” NO! Seventy-seven percent of New Mexico’s school children are children of color, Hispanos, Native American and Black.
When these children experience the effects of systemic failure, I envision they are placed in some nebulous cloud and so, out of sight, out of mind. I say that because we celebrate the successes, we glorify that one program that helps 3 percent of our student population. What has happened to serving the other 97 percent? New Mexicans must join together and devise the comprehensive plan that will serve 100 percent of children in New Mexico, that plan exists, in silos, now we shall pull it together. The top-down approaches have brought division and blamed the victim.
It has been interesting to hear the fallout of the lawsuit. Let me state again, this lawsuit is for, about and by the children and families of the state of New Mexico. The fallout was about adult battles. All seasoned advocates know the unions do a marvelous job for their teachers; they are the advocates for the adults, and rightly so. We must be the union for our children.
The New Mexico Education Action Alliance is a uniting force; it is a statewide nonpartisan group whose mission is “The complete elimination of the achievement gap.” The alliance brings to the forefront the brown faces impacted by a broken education system. It unites individuals statewide and calls for the enhancement for those programs that address the factors that will completely eliminate the achievement gap. I ask all those advocates who want to see a paradigm shift in the educational system as it exists now to speak out, make your voices louder and raise the needs of those children more than ever.