A five-year plan aimed at complying with a District Court judge’s ruling in the landmark Yazzie/Martinez lawsuit should be available for public comment next month, state Public Education Department Secretary Designate Kurt Steinhaus announced Monday.

Steinhaus and Assistant Secretary for Indian Education Lashawna Tso shared a brief update on the plan to the Legislature’s Indian Affairs Committee on Monday.

The education department has contracted former Santa Fe Public Schools superintendent and former state public education Secretary Veronica García to write the draft of the plan, which is meant to align with a main strategic blueprint the department is using.

Steinhaus expressed hope Monday a completed plan with budgetary recommendations would be made available to lawmakers ahead of the upcoming legislative session in January, while calling for longer term — rather than one-time — investments in areas like teacher retention and social and emotional learning.

The goal of the plan is to create a more equitable education system for students from four subgroups identified in the lawsuit as lacking access to an adequate education: Native American students, English-language learners, those from low-income households and kids with disabilities.

Public Education Department staff members are making site visits to tribal areas and pueblos, including school districts named in the 2018 lawsuit, as part of the planning process.

Once public comment closes on the proposal, the education department may make changes to the plan based on public input.

While committee members praised Steinhaus, a former Los Alamos Public Schools superintendent, for heading the education department, others called for a step beyond a draft plan like the one proposed.

“If we really want the tribes to do what they feel they ought to do with their children on their own sovereign lands, it’s the state’s responsibility, as well as the federal government, to give schools back to the tribes ... ,” said Sen. Benny Shendo, D-Jemez Pueblo. That’s the only way we’re going to change.”

Sen. Brenda McKenna, D-Corrales, echoed Shendo’s sentiment.

“The closer we get to getting PED to give autonomy to our [Native] nations and pueblos, the better off we’ll be,” she said.

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