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NM ordered to pay $429K in school lawsuit

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Students from Albuquerque watch a rally for West Side Day at the Roundhouse in Santa Fe in February. The event included speeches by several legislators and several Albuquerque schools from the West Side attended. The students met legislators and toured the building. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

SANTA FE – A judge has ordered the state to pay about $429,000 to the plaintiffs who successfully challenged New Mexico’s funding system for public schools, resulting in last year’s landmark court ruling.

The amount is slightly less than what the plaintiffs – a host of parents and children throughout the state – had initially sought.

State District Judge Sarah Singleton directed civil-rights attorneys in the case last month to recalculate some of the costs they were seeking reimbursement for. The plaintiffs had initially sought roughly $449,000, but Singleton rejected some costs and reduced the per-diem expenses allowed for some witnesses.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs, in any case, say the reimbursement represents just a fraction of their costs.

In New Mexico, the prevailing party in a civil case can generally recover its costs, with certain exceptions.

Attorneys’ fees aren’t included, for example, but the travel costs for witnesses, fees for experts and printing of transcripts, among other expenses, can be reimbursed.

The plaintiffs won a court ruling last year that found New Mexico was violating some students’ rights by failing to provide a sufficient education. The ruling focused largely on “at risk” students, including Native Americans, English-language learners and people with disabilities.

Lawmakers this year responded to the decision by approving a 16 percent increase in funding for public schools and adopting other policies intended to improve New Mexico’s education system. The changes include extra funding for school districts that serve large numbers of low-income families.

The New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund were involved in the filing of the lawsuit.

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