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More cultural, language programs urged for schools

SANTA FE – Native languages, Spanish and tearful testimony filled the center of the Capitol on Monday as a new coalition of community groups and others urged lawmakers to overhaul New Mexico’s school system.

They said it will take more than just additional funding to satisfy a landmark court ruling that found the state is failing to provide a sufficient education to all students.

Members of the coalition, known as Transform Education NM, said culturally relevant programs, more support for students learning English and other measures are also necessary.

Wilhelmina Yazzie, a Gallup mother and plaintiff in the landmark class-action lawsuit, addressed supporters in both Diné, or Navajo, and English during a news conference Monday as she spoke about a shortage of textbooks, supplies and tutors at her children’s school.

“All of our children deserve an equal opportunity to succeed,” she said, stopping occasionally, overwhelmed with emotion.

Others speakers delivered their messages in English, Spanish and Tiwa, a pueblo language.

The coalition, which includes the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty, supports legislation aimed at better preparing teachers to help students whose first language isn’t English; increasing teacher pay; and improving access to social services in schools – all parts of a broader platform intended to improve New Mexico schools.

“We owe this to our children,” Rep. Derrick Lente, D-Sandia Pueblo, said during the group’s news conference.

In July, state District Judge Sarah Singleton ruled that New Mexico is violating the rights of at-risk students – including Native Americans, English-language learners and those from low-income families – by failing to provide a sufficient education.

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