Despite a mandate from the landmark Yazzie/Martinez v. State of New Mexico lawsuit, which ordered more resources for New Mexico’s English-language learner, Native American, low-income and special-education students, education advocates are worried school funding is still falling short.

“When I look at the [Public Education Department]’s proposed budget for this coming year, there’s no increase in services for special-education students. There is no increase in bilingual programming,” Gail Evans, lead counsel for the Yazzie plaintiffs for the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty, told Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham on Wednesday night at an education town hall in Albuquerque.

“And although there was an increase in the Indian Education Fund, to really implement the Indian Education Act is going to take capacity building across the state.”

Evans asked Lujan Grisham to commit to more than the 5 percent overall budget increase and 4 percent salary raises outlined in the Public Education Department’s budget request earlier this month. In front of 250 parents, teachers and legislators, the governor, who was joined onstage by the state secretaries of public education, higher education and early childhood education, said there isn’t enough money to go around.

“So the Medicaid advocacy group would like to see $1 billion into Medicaid. The hospital advocacy group would like to see a billion dollars into hospitals. The infrastructure advocacy group would like to see $12 million into infrastructure. Higher education is going to ask for far more than is available. We need $300 million and that doesn’t even get us to universal early childhood education,” Lujan Grisham said. “We can’t be Pollyanna about how much it is going to take. We can’t lack courage, but I want to make sure I’m hitting every single one of those priorities in the most meaningful and strategic way.”

A handful of public school parents took the chance to speak directly to the governor to express frustration with New Mexico’s special-education system. One parent said she was devastated a special-education program was preventing her daughter from taking Navajo language classes. Another said he worried his daughter would be excluded from general education classes after a special-education enrollment process that leaves parents powerless.

After the Public Education Department received an additional $480 million for the current fiscal year — an increase of 17 percent over funds allocated in fiscal year 2019 — advocates want the state to continue to ramp up education funding to fill such gaps.

State economists projected New Mexico will receive $797 million in new revenue for fiscal year 2021. Earlier this month in front of the Legislative Finance Committee, Public Education Department Secretary Ryan Stewart asked for a 5 percent increase, or $170 million, in funding next school year. According to the request, $93 million of that increase would provide school employees with 4 percent raises, while $54 million would go toward the per-pupil funding for at-risk students named in the Yazzie/Martinez lawsuit.

Despite Evans’ request for more funding for the Yazzie plaintiffs, state Sen. Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, a former special-education teacher in Albuquerque Public Schools, said in a phone interview that she shares Lujan Grisham’s call for patience.

“I think the governor did a good job of laying out the huge needs we have in this state not just in education but in behavioral health, Medicaid, hospitals, child care and all of these agencies with very large funding requests. It’s tricky to help all ships rise,” Stewart said. “I’m still hopeful we can increase the budget request from [the Education Department] to something more in line with what we talk about in education.”

Stewart said increasing salaries beyond 4 percent to attract and retain teachers was her top priority for the Public Education Department budget. The National Education Association-New Mexico on Thursday presented polling to the Legislative Education Study Committee that says 85 percent of New Mexicans support further increasing teacher pay. The poll was conducted by Washington, D.C.-based Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research.

“The public wants Santa Fe to take more big steps forward to support education,” National Education Association-New Mexico President Mary Parr-Sanchez said. “It is a mark of the governor’s leadership to acknowledge our state is far from reaching our goals, and last year’s funding increases [were] only a needed first step.”

At the town hall, Lujan Grisham outlined a proposal to create an endowment fund for early childhood education that could one day pay for universal prekindergarten for the state’s 3- and 4-year-olds. She also championed the New Mexico Opportunity Scholarship, which will provide free tuition at public community colleges and universities for full-time students who maintain a 2.5 GPA and meet a host of other requirements. And she pledged collaboration between the state’s early childhood, K-12 and higher education systems.

When a high school science teacher told the governor she was contemplating leaving her job because of overcrowded classes, Lujan Grisham offered her condolences.

“Don’t leave. We need you. We believe in you and we know it’s hard,” Lujan Grisham said. “The best thing I can do, because I can’t fix it tomorrow in your classroom I’m pretty sure, but I can pay attention so you know that’s coming. I can apologize for every state and the federal government that says that education is a priority but never does anything about it.”

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(5) comments

Leaving TeachingInNewMexico

I teach elementary school on the Navajo Reservation for a New Mexico Public School. We should be implementing Yazzie/Martinez. I do not see it happening--at all. I love my students, but I hate what the New Mexico system and the district system do to them! I will not be teaching in New Mexico next year.

Students are blocked from getting SAT (student assistance team) help by saying the teacher didn't do 9 weeks of intervention, or didn't do it right, or district "loses" the paperwork. My school refused to provide possible retention forms to teachers this year. The deadline for parents to sign them has passed. I cannot retain my students two years or more behind, academically, in spite of the fact they are failing everything. This makes the school's statistics look better--less students in SAT, less students in special ed (because they have to get SAT first, for 9 months, then sped), less students getting held back a year. But students are not getting what they need. They may become functionally illiterate adults. Have you heard of "the school-to-prison pipeline"?

We have no reading interventionist/specialist to help students who need reading help. An example is a 3rd grader who reads at a 1st grade level. This student could not get into SAT (pathway to sped) because she read "fluently" two grades behind. That doesn't work for students in the "reading to learn" phase of elementary school!

The state said they would get rid of PARCC. It is called another name now, but every second, every moment, every lesson plan, every data meeting, every breakfast worksheet, every quarterly district-created test, every test, every quiz, everything--at all times--is still about PARCC (now called NM-MSSA). The 2020 spring test has questions that are still basically PARCC questions. 20% of my students passed the spring test last year. Most of them need serious remedial work in reading, writing, mathematics, and they need to be taught background knowledge and vocabulary. But school and district administration only pushes quarterly and spring testing test prep. Ironically, this will yield diminishing returns on -- spring testing! My school is doubling down on this failed strategy. Many of my students are 1-3 years behind, academically. I can help them move forward, but most will still not pass the spring test this year.

School administrators want a quick fix to get the heat off their backs. They want to focus on Istation scores in the early grades. But wait! Istation does not test writing. Students many grades later struggle with writing because of this mis-directed focus. A good reader is a good writer, and a good writer is a good reader. They have to go together. But desperate administrators want teachers to only teach to the test. This does more harm to New Mexico's students than anything else. Science isn't tested until 5th grade? Don't expect it to be taught until then. Social Studies isn't tested? Don't expect it to be taught at all. We need to do better for New Mexican children.

Teachers just want more and more money? I spend $500-600+ of my own money each year on paper, toner, educational books, behavior incentive prizes, and subscriptions to things like Scholastic Teachables, SuperTeacherWorksheets, Brain Pop, and items on TeachersPayTeachers, etc. because the "curriculum" we are provided does not match well with spring testing, district-created quarterly tests, and Common Core State Standards.

The health insurance for teachers in New Mexico is also notoriously atrocious and expensive. I pay $550+ for family BCBS medical coverage monthly. My college-age son recently received bills totalling $820 for a scheduled ultrasound he was told would cost him $150 out of pocket. I have known teachers whose children have had to go to the emergency room and they had a $4,000 bill. After pension, taxes, insurance, etc. are taken out I take home about $2,000 per month in cash. And the only reason I get that much is that I teach in an after-school tutoring program. I could not survive without that "extra." I work 70 hours per week for that $2K per month. And this is a hard job, not an easy one, even though I love my students.

Some districts in neighboring states provide medical, dental, and vision at no cost to the teacher. Perhaps I could actually afford to use my insurance or fix my broken tooth there next year!

People need to understand what teachers in New Mexico are up against. If the schools are "broke" they will continue to illegally block special education services, reading specialist services, speech therapy, occupational therapy, etc. for students. That is reality.

I will pray for my former students and New Mexico teacher colleagues, but I won't be teaching here next year.

Anna Soeiro

I don't understand how the state can get away with not following a court ruling (Yazzie/Martinez). If I didn't follow orders from a court, I am pretty sure there would be consequences. Someone please enlighten me. Thank you

Chris Mechels

Things that could/should be done, like making the Lottery Scholarship "needs based", as other states have done, aren't even mentioned. And giving "across the board" increases to education, the competent and the incompetent alike, is simply destructive. MLG had taken a huge sum of money and made things worse. She, and the teachers, have stopped evaluating performance, and now just throw money at "education". MLG needs to get educated, on managing for performance.

Leaving TeachingInNewMexico

I agree, making the Lottery Scholarship needs-based would help. And money given to schools needs to be used effectively, carefully, and with monitored results. I am a New Mexico public school elementary teacher, and I care very deeply about my students' education and achievement.

However, your statement, "She, and the teachers, have stopped evaluating performance, and now just throw money at 'education', " is not accurate. At my school everything, and I mean everything, is about spring testing and test scores.

The problem is that PARCC, and the 2019 and 2020 tests that are based on PARCC, are not good ways to assess student achievement. They are designed so that only top-tier students capable of entering and completing college will pass them. The high-stakes spring testing also distorts the whole school year. All required skills for each grade level above 2nd grade must be taught in the first three quarters. Studies of Common Core State Standards have determined that it would take more than a full school year's worth of available instruction hours to teach all required standards for a grade level. If some students require more repetition and practice than most, they will be at a loss. A whole month is devoted to test prep and not to continuing instruction on academic skills. This harms our students. Please see the following article about Common Core State Standards:

https://www.institute4learning.com/2018/04/26/12-reasons-the-common-core-is-bad-for-americas-schools/

Please see the following articles about PARCC, which also hold true for "PARCC-like" testing:

http://www.saveourschoolsnj.org/2014/12/23/the-12-reasons-we-oppose-the-parcc-test/

I would have directed you to https://parcc-assessment.org/released-items/, but I see the site is being taken down in favor of the "New Meridan Resource Center" at http://resources.newmeridiancorp.org/ It appears a much-reviled test is being rebranded.

https://www.bostonglobe.com/news/politics/2015/03/18/what-happens-students-who-fail-parcc-exam/L7J42ZePN8XauZiyvdfJxJ/story.html

The way we measure achievement for New Mexico students matters. The current testing scenario is driving the school dropout rate, the suicide rate, the illiteracy rate, and preventing teachers from having time/resources to help with basic skills like remedial reading and basic math.

I was certified as gifted in school. I graduated college with honors. I achieve high scores on standardized tests, including teacher exams. Even so, I would have struggled to do well on PARCC and to achieve all that Common Core requires at young ages, which is in many cases developmentally inappropriate at those ages.

I do not mind being evaluated on my performance as a teacher. I do bring my students' abilities up each year. What bothers me is teaching a "one room schoolhouse" with five different grade levels of students present in one room, and an aggressive, spring-test-focused pacing guide that pushes me to sweep past my students who are most in need. Spending time helping my struggling students hurt my "job performance" rating in the former teacher evaluation system. And do not imagine that there is any other help available for the majority of them. Sped is almost impossible to get, even for students who desperately and clearly need it [costs a lot of money!] Is this how you want teachers to teach? "Too bad for you if you are not in the top 25%. You won't pass the spring test, anyway. You're not worth my time." That is what the former performance evaluation system was encouraging.

In the current New Mexico educational system truly educating children and not just "teaching the test" is a subversive act, and it is punished.

Peter Neal

It's already happening...a huge increase in recurring costs, as the oil and gas money flows in. when that revenue sees a major contraction, the withdrawal pains will be painful, to put it mildly.

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