SANTA FE – New Mexico education officials this month touted a plan to address an ongoing lawsuit over educational opportunities for Indigenous and low-income students as an accomplishment of the outgoing public education secretary.
But a draft of the document obtained by The Associated Press shows that it offers few specifics for fixing systemic inequities in the state’s public school system.
The 100-page document outlines strategies to resolve a 2018 state court ruling that found New Mexico failed to provide “adequate” education for most students required under the state’s constitution.
In most cases, the draft reiterates the general goals of PED without laying out specific plans to solve problems identified in the ruling.
It prioritizes increasing access to high-speed internet, but does not suggest providing it to all students or to all students unable to attend school in-person, which District Judge Matthew Wilson ordered this year.
The draft was presented to a summit of tribal leaders when they met last week with state government officials.
The Public Education Department plans to release a full version of the proposal by Dec. 1, after getting additional feedback, the document states. That leaves about four weeks for the public to comment before legislation starts to be filed next year.
The final draft will likely drive policy discussions ahead of the 2022 legislative session where lawmakers will hash out the state’s education budget.
“The timing is driven by the need for giving the public time to weigh in before the (legislative) session,” said Public Education Department spokeswoman Carolyn Graham.
State Rep. Derrick Lente, a Democrat who sponsors much of the state House legislation supporting Indigenous issues, and other prominent Native American education advocates complained that they had not been given a copy of the document by state education officials.
Lente says feast days and other religious holidays in December will limit the public’s ability to participate.
He said they should release the document sooner so there is time for people to have input.
“It’s insulting to think that they expect the public who yes, education is absolutely a priority, but during the holiday season, to take time out of, out of their life, and out of their holiday,” Lente said, “on something like this that they’ve had all year to do.”
The draft focuses on what needs to be done to address the lawsuit, but not necessarily who will do it or how.
The 2018 ruling found that the state offers a second-rate education to marginalized groups, and hasn’t hired enough qualified teachers who can serve Indigenous students, English-language learners, or disabled children. It also found that children in poverty were not receiving an adequate education.
The Public Education Department policy draft sets goals of increasing teacher training and recruitment, driving down dropout rates and absenteeism, and increasing funding to support students outside of class, from counseling to at-home internet and computers.
One of the few specific recommendations in the report cites the need to increase pay for teachers who obtain Spanish bilingual certifications or Native American language and cultural certificates, as well as technical support and training for schools for absenteeism interventions. Boosting pay for those hard to fill positions would attract more candidates, the draft said.
While follow-up rulings from state court Judge Wilson set a specific standard for high-speed internet and required students to have access, the draft does not.
Former PED Secretary Ryan Stewart has said that the state follows a federal standard that sets minimum upload and download speeds. The judge issued a higher standard, based on outcomes, saying that all students should be able to participate in a two-way video chat with their teacher.
Wilson also ordered the department to identify which students lack essential technology. The department has not released the data. Education officials said more detailed recommendation items will be included in the version released to the public.
PED “is developing 90-day action plans that will include specific measurable actions as well as identifying the people responsible for those actions, the timelines, and the metrics for success,” Graham said.