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Bilingual education bills advance

SANTA FE – Three bills aimed at making New Mexico’s public school system better-equipped to teach a diverse student population are headed to the full House after clearing a key budget-writing committee Tuesday.

Backers of the measures say they are needed to bring the state into compliance with a landmark June court ruling that found New Mexico was not meetings its constitutional mandate to provide an adequate education to all students.

The court ruling specifically applies to English-language learners, Hispanic and Native American students, who combined make up nearly three-quarters of the state’s 327,000 public school students.

“These three pieces of legislation are absolutely essential in remedying the Yazzie/Martinez ruling,” said Edward Tabet-Cubero of Transform Education New Mexico, a coalition of education, tribal and community leaders that has pushed for changes in the state’s education system.

However, the House Appropriations and Finance Committee endorsed the three measures Tuesday without dissent only after spending provisions in two of the three bills were stripped out.

That led to some questions about how the legislation would be funded, though a state Public Education Department official testified the agency could use money included in a separate $7 billion budget bill passed by the House to pay for at least some of measures’ costs.

“We’re confident there is money that can be used for all three bills in the budget,” Tabet-Cubero told the Journal.

The three bills would strengthen or expand bilingual or multicultural programs in the state’s public education system. In more specific detail:

• House Bill 111 – Would provide assistance and training about cultural and linguistic teaching strategies to educators in rural parts of the state.

• House Bill 120 – Would set up a loan program for students trying to get a bilingual teaching license, provided they agree to teach in a New Mexico public school.

• House Bill 159 – Would create two new divisions within the PED – one focused on multicultural education and the other on Hispanic education – and would enshrine an advisory council on bilingual, multicultural education in state law.

All three bills are sponsored by Rep. Tomás Salazar, D-Las Vegas, along with other Democratic co-sponsors. They could be voted on by the full House later this week.

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