Public Education Department Has a Plan

New Mexico officials seek public comment on strategy to address educational inequities identified in Yazzie/Martinez lawsuit

The state Public Education Department on Monday released a draft action plan to address systemic insufficiencies in public schools identified in the 2018 Martinez and Yazzie v. State of New Mexico lawsuit.

Advocates of educational equity have long awaited the draft plan’s release. The public will have a little over a month to provide feedback on the 55-page document.

The document contains an outline of steps the state has already taken to address inequities for “at-risk” students identified in the lawsuit, which include students who receive special education services, Native children, English-language learners and kids from low-income homes.

The progress, according to PED, includes increases to educators salaries, more funding for community schools and the Indian Education Fund and equity councils—groups aimed at identifying district-level problems that had yet to see statewide adoption at SFR’s last tally.

“Although there is still much to be done, it’s important to recognize how much has already been accomplished to address the lawsuit,” Education Department Secretary Kurt Steinhaus says in a news release rolling out the plan.

Last October, PED hired Veronica García, Santa Fe Public Schools’ former superintendent and the former secretary of the education department, to write the plan, paying her $25,000 to put together the document, which reflects García’s original work, Judy Robinson, a department spokeswoman, confirms.

Steinhaus told policymakers that the draft would be available to the public prior to the 2022 legislative session, but January came and went with no trace of the plan.

When SFR asked Steinhaus about the delay in February, he wrote, “Meaningful collaboration is a critical part of getting this plan right, and we will take as much time as needed to make sure that all voices are heard.”

One effort at “planning for the future” that PED hopes will improve public schooling is the formation of a Martinez/Yazzie Response Team. The group’s objective is “to provide assistance, oversight, and financial review of at-risk programs and related spending.”

Vickie Bannerman, PED’s deputy secretary of Identity, Equity and Transformation, will select the eight-member team “based on their role within PED and ability to serve on the team,” Robinson writes.

Funding for at-risk students has increased significantly since the 2018 lawsuit—in fiscal year 2022, $700 million was designated for that group, more than three times the amount allocated in 2019—but the funding’s impact has been difficult to determine given the lack of statewide data. The COVID-19 pandemic put a hold on testing for two years.

One area the state hopes to make gains is in the number of students participating in extended learning time. Funding for additional classroom time has seen significant investments from the state, but less enthusiasm from schools. Just 11% of the state’s districts and charter schools opted to add 25 days to the calendar by participating in the program known as K-5 Plus.

By increasing funding for transportation, which PED identified as a barrier for many families, and giving a 3% salary bump for participating school personnel, the state hopes more districts will participate in the additional learning program. A pilot program that gives schools more flexibility to decide when to add learning time is also part of the plan to give students more time in the classroom.

State education officials also hope providing grants to community-based Native American language programs will improve outcomes for Indigenous students.

Over a three-year period, five entities will receive grants to support Native education and language programming.

“The department is actively working on the details of these grants,” writes Robinson.

PED is asking for the public to submit written comments by email until June 17.

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