Plaintiffs in New Mexico’s landmark Yazzie/Martinez education lawsuit say the state is still failing to provide evidence it is complying with a 2018 ruling that called for major changes in the state’s public school system.
The state, in a court filing this week, argues it already has provided more than 60,000 pages of documents and asks for dismissal of the plaintiffs’ request for more data.
The plaintiffs’ attorneys filed a motion last month asking the court to order the state to provide additional data related to a request made more than a year ago for information detailing progress the Public Education Department and other agencies are making to ensure the state is providing sufficient education to four at-risk student groups: special-education students, Native American children, low-income kids and English-language learners.
The state has responded with information multiple times, and the court has granted two extension periods on the plaintiffs’ requests — most recently to April 2022.
“Plaintiffs can obtain no further relief on those requests to which they’ve already received an answer,” the state says in a response to the motion filed Monday.
Maddy Hayden, a spokeswoman for Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, declined to comment, and a state attorney on the case did not return a request for comment.
Daniel Yohalem, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said, “Even though there are a lot of gaps in what they’ve given us, and a lack of clarity in what they’ve given us, they’re claiming [they’ve] done enough.”
The plaintiffs’ request seeks data on the state’s preschool population, high school graduate remediation rates, extending learning time and teacher education programs.
Attorneys for the state argued in part the request was too broad.
Public Education Secretary-designate Kurt Steinhaus has not seen the state’s court filing this week, but his department is “committing every single resource we’ve got to help meet those requests,” he said Wednesday.
For the past several months, the department also has been drafting a comprehensive plan to address the Yazzie/Martinez lawsuit.
In October, Steinhaus told state lawmakers on the Legislative Education Study Committee he expected the plan to be ready for public comment by November, ahead of the legislative session that starts in January.
He said Wednesday, however, there is now no set timeline to the plan’s release as administrators review 4,000 pages of findings in the suit.
“We really wanted to go back to those original findings of fact and make sure we’re being true to what Judge Singleton said,” Steinhaus said, referring to deceased state District Judge Sarah Singleton, who oversaw the case.
Lujan Grisham’s office hired former Santa Fe Public Schools Superintendent Veronica García, a former education secretary, to help draft the framework.
Steinhaus said staffing issues were partially responsible for the plan’s delay, along with a court-mandated deadline to provide internet access to New Mexico students during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It turns out it was much harder than I anticipated back when I was presenting it to LESC several months ago,” he said.
While Steinhaus told lawmakers his agency was drafting a five-year plan, he indicated Wednesday that could change.
“What we might end up producing is something that’s maybe very detailed year by year,” he said. “Five is not required by the court, and it’s not a magic number.”
He pointed to the department’s recent $3.85 billion budget request, which includes a wage increase of up to 7 percent for all educators, as one way it is addressing the Yazzie/Martinez suit.
Yohalem said plaintiffs are hoping to see the state release a draft of the Yazzie/Martinez plan soon.
“We’re eager to see the governor express some leadership in this and get a comprehensive plan out,” he said. “The state can’t even talk about a budget for education until there’s a comprehensive plan.”