As the dad of daughters in the 11th, seventh and second grades in one of the school districts that sued the state of New Mexico, I was relieved when a district court ruled what New Mexicans have known all along – our public schools must be fixed. Our kids and their teachers are as capable as their peers anywhere in the country, but the state has starved our schools of essential resources for years. The Journal’s (Dec. 21) editorial, however, calls for our incoming governor to appeal the decision, creating an unnecessary legal battle. Our governor must stick to her promise not to appeal.
The state’s long-standing failures with our public education system have left our students at the bottom of every major national ranking. Not just one, but two lawsuits were filed to remedy this situation. After years of litigation and a trial with testimony by dozens of local and national experts, educators, economists and policy makers, the court ruled that New Mexico has failed to meet its constitutional obligation to provide all students a sufficient education.
Judge (Sarah) Singleton’s ruling considered a massive amount of research and analysis, and indicated the state knows what needs to be done. Her decision noted the state Legislature has already described key components of a constitutionally sufficient education within the Bilingual/Multicultural Education Act, Indian Education Act and Hispanic Education Act. And as the ruling acknowledges, the state has plenty of evidence of the most effective ways to serve our state’s diverse, low-income and at-risk students.
New Mexico is full of bright spots of education programming that works. Our state has some nationally recognized community school and family engagement initiatives, world-class dual-language programs and comprehensive pre-K-12 tribal education collaborations.
But only some children have access to these programs, creating “haves” and “have nots.” Some children have pre-K; others do not. Some students have an extended school year; others do not. Some children have a bilingual/multicultural education; others do not. Some children have access to social workers and counselors; others do not. These disparate inputs lead to disparate outcomes and it shows in our achievement gap data.
Nevertheless, the Journal makes this absurd claim in the editorial: “Nobody knows how much it will cost. Nobody knows what it really requires. Nobody knows whether it will produce results.” It is the state’s job to know what a sufficient education requires. To understand the research and evidence behind which programs produce results. It is the state’s job to know what it will cost.
Providing for our schools takes a big investment. Unfortunately, the state has made choices at the expense of our children’s education. Our past two governors dramatically cut taxes for the wealthiest New Mexicans and corporations with the promise of jobs that never showed up, which led to lower state revenues. Those choices represent over $500 million in cuts to state funding that could have gone to our schools. There are numerous other tax loopholes that are costing another $500 million in state revenues.
New Mexico’s children – 76 percent of whom are identified as “poor” – – are bearing the brunt of the state’s decisions not to resource our education system. In response to the Journal’s “nobody knows” assertions, I’d point us to the late artist Leonard Cohen, who sang “Everybody knows that the dice were loaded … Everybody knows the fight was fixed. The poor stay poor. The rich get rich. That’s how it goes. Everybody knows.”
My youngest daughter and her classmates do not have the opportunity to redo second grade, or third, or fourth, while the state sorts things out. It is incumbent on all of us to remind our elected officials that we are not going to nickel and dime our way out of 50th.
Edward Tabet-Cubero is a founding member of the New Mexico Coalition for the Majority. He lives in Santa Fe with his wife, who is also an educator, and four daughters.