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NM should invest revenue windfall in students

Will Aug. 28, 2019, be remembered as the day the state changed course and finally committed to giving our students and teachers the resources they need to be successful?

That’s the opportunity, because the revenue forecast set for release (Wednesday) will show a massive budget surplus from oil and gas revenues. The question is whether Legislative Finance Committee members and other state legislators, who are gathering in Red River this week, will have the vision and courage to step up and commit sufficient resources to education.

There can be no more excuses. With a windfall of more than a billion dollars, the Legislature is in a position to make game-changing investments to transform K-12 education in New Mexico.

The court findings in the Yazzie/Martinez lawsuit laid bare the facts we can no longer ignore, and demanded action to better serve students and improve outcomes.

The court ruled that New Mexico is violating the constitutional rights of students to a sufficient education. It ordered the state to take immediate steps to fix our public schools and fully support low-income, Native American, Hispanic, English language learner (ELL) and special needs students. As of today, that has not happened.

Three-quarters of our K-12 students are Hispanic or Native American, and over a third speak a language other than English at home. The court found that the state is not meeting state and federal requirements to support ELL students or its responsibilities for a multicultural education framework established in the New Mexico Indian Education Act, Hispanic Education Act and Bilingual, Multicultural Education Act.

Study after study shows that instituting multicultural and multilingual learning is not just the best way to serve ELL learners, but also offers life-long cognitive benefits to all students. However, the state has not incorporated a multicultural curriculum and is not providing educators the training and resources necessary to effectively teach ELLs.

House Bill 111, passed in the 2019 legislative session, was meant to provide culturally and linguistically responsive professional development to teachers in over two-thirds of the state’s districts, but the Legislature stripped funding from the bill before it could be implemented.

The Legislature also touted the importance of early childhood education, but failed to fund universal Pre-K in the state, meaning families remain on wait lists and many kids have no access to a program known to improve their chances of long-term academic success and well-being.

After a decade of disinvestment in education, New Mexico students do not have the basic resources they need to be successful, like up-to-date textbooks and other culturally relevant instructional material, or transportation to and from school. Funding levels now are not even back to where we were before the 2008 recession. If we want kids to succeed, the state needs to step up.

The simple but critical premise of the court ruling is that all students, regardless of their circumstances, can learn and achieve at a high level. It is the state’s responsibility to create and fully fund an educational system that better serves their needs.

Our New Mexican children and young people possess all of the potential of their peers anywhere in the country. Our teachers are just as capable as teachers anywhere else. And our families want the best education for their children. However, student achievement results continue to languish at 50th because the state has failed to provide our children and their teachers the resources necessary to succeed.

A transformed multilingual, multicultural K-12 education system will require collaborating with New Mexico’s tribes and local communities to ensure our families, tribal leaders, educators and local experts are at the forefront of shaping the education system that provides multicultural and multilingual learning at all levels.

We, the people of New Mexico, have an opportunity like never before to combine what we know works for students with the state investment necessary to transform education and set the course for a prosperous future. Let’s seize it.

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