Citing the "crisis" of education in New Mexico, a lawsuit filed today against the state's Public Education Department calls for higher funding for public schools and more money marked for "at-risk" youth.
The lawsuit, filed on behalf of four parents and four children who attend schools in the Albuquerque Public Schools and Gallup McKinley County Schools districts, argues that the state isn't properly enforcing clauses in the New Mexico Constitution that it must provide "sufficient" and "uniform" education to students.
Students, in turn, aren't educated well enough to compete in the work force, the reasoning goes.
"New Mexico's students rank at the very bottom in the country in educational achievement," the lawsuit, which the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty is also involved in, reads. "New Mexico's children have the lowest likelihood of success all children in the country."
It also argues that the state funding formula for public education "fails to appropriate sufficient levels of funding for students who live in poverty or are identified as English language learners" and cites several unappealing statistics, including numbers from the National Achievement Educational Performance test that show New Mexico ranking last (tied with Mississippi) in the nation for fourth graders proficient in basic reading skill.
Bob Rosebrough, a Gallup attorney representing the families, says that the percentage of the state budget dedicated to public education has deceased from 56.8 percent in 1987 to 44.6 percent today.
He adds that the lawsuit is trying to get the state to enact recommendations by a legislative task force that conducted a two-year study recommending a new funding formula that would direct more resources to at-risk students, defined as children who live below the poverty level or don't speak English as a first language.
Roughly 31 percent of New Mexico children live below the federal poverty line, which exceeds the national average of 23 percent, according to the lawsuit. The recommendations were approved by the state House of Representatives in 2008 and 2009 but died in the state Senate each time.
Rosebrough says the lawsuit would "provide more money to [school] districts so that they can do more intensive early childhood education and also have adequate reading programs and intervention programs."
"Other states spend dramatically more money than
we do for at-risk students," he continues. "The most important issue we face in this
state is our lack of focus and resources on at-risk students."
The lawsuit, filed in the 11th Judicial District Court in McKinley County, also names PED Secretary-Designate Hanna Skandera as a defendant. PED spokesman Larry Behrens wouldn't comment directly on the lawsuit because he says his agency hasn't yet reviewed it, but he stressed that "this administration has signed budgets that increase education spending to the highest levels in state history."
"During that time student achievement results, including graduation rates among our Native American students, have increased significantly," Behrens writes in an email. "We absolutely know every student in our state has potential for greatness and the fight to reform our schools is a testament to our faith in New Mexico’s children."