Education Funding Idea Moves Along

House Education Committee supports higher-ed appropriations

Several universities in New Mexico would receive targeted funds for culturally-focused teacher programs in the upcoming school year under House Bill 39, also known as the Yazzie Education Funding Bill, which passed the House Education Committee by a party-line vote of 7-3 Wednesday morning.

The bill introduced by Rep. Yanira Gurrola, D-Bernalillo, proposes to appropriate nearly $27.6 million from the general fund to institutions of higher education, tribal colleges and the state Higher Education Department to comply with the court rulings in the Yazzie/Martinez lawsuit, which found the state violated marginalized students’ right to an adequate education.

The money would support bilingual programs in both Spanish and Indigenous languages for those studying K-12 education; create teacher pipelines to increase bilingual-certified teachers; provide culturally and linguistically relevant curricula and instructional materials; support services for students in medical school pathways; and provide culturally and linguistically appropriate mental and behavioral health training.

Colleges in line for the cash include University of New Mexico, New Mexico State University, New Mexico Highlands University, Navajo Technical University, Diné College, The Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute and Northern New Mexico College

People from a number of advocacy organizations, as well teachers and students voiced their support for the bill in-person and through Zoom at the Jan. 24 House Education Committee hearing.

“At the most simplistic level, HB 39 creates targeted funding that would open doors for our pre-service educators [and] also for our students,” Whitney Holland, New Mexico American Federation of Teachers president, told lawmakers.

“These initiatives are really going to help prepare the next generation of teachers, school administrators and instructional support providers,” said Lloyd Lee, a professor of Native American Studies at UNM. “It’s going to develop school curricula and professional development, as well as create bilingual and Native language programs and support schools, districts and tribal communities to meet students’ health and social services’ needs.”

Rep. Susan Herrera, D-Embudo, said she recognized the “giant effort” responding to the Yazzie lawsuit and congratulated Gurrola’s work on the bill.

“I’m also very impressed that you looked at the whole child here,” Herrera said to Gurrola. “You’re not just looking at education, but what goes into that child being able to receive an education.”

However, she expressed reservations about the amount of additional money that would go to big schools already funded by the state.

“The budget of the University of New Mexico went from $3.4 billion to $3.7 billion from the years 2022 and 2023. Their assets—and I’m just talking about UNM here—in their foundation is $417 million,” Herrera said. “My question on this budget, knowing how much we give to universities, is could universities do this anyhow? This is what they should be doing anyhow.”

Rep. Candy Spence Ezzell, R-Roswell, who voted no along with two Republican colleagues on the committee, also noted both Eastern New Mexico University campuses were left off the list for funding, despite the high concentration of Hispanic students in Roswell and Ruidoso.

“My problem is…we have to be in compliance, we do. I understand that HB 39 will increase the number of bilingual teachers that we do need in our New Mexico schools,” Ezzell said. “But you’re asking for an appropriation of $27,552,700. And it’s going to be recurring, and those funds do not revert back to the general fund at the end of the year. That’s a big want you’re asking for here.”

Former Cochiti Pueblo Gov. Regis Pecos, Gurrola’s expert witness, argued the state needs to combat low academic achievement, health disparities and poverty.

“The investment of $28 million in a multibillion-dollar budget is a drop in the bucket,” Pecos said. “If we don’t invest, we’re never going to have the ability, the capability of addressing the education crisis.”

Rep. Brian Baca, R-Los Lunas, argued that several appropriations to the universities were not relevant to the Yazzie lawsuit. For example, he noted $2.5 million for UNM’s health and sciences department, which would provide medical students who commit to working in-state with support services.

“Some of the activities outlined in HB 39 have nothing to do with K-12 education,” Baca said. “These 42 allocations cross many different departments within the universities. Two-thirds of this bill, in my opinion, are right in line where they should be.”

Rep. Andrés Romero, D-Albuquerque, said all appropriations would benefit K-12 education even if not directly stated.

“We’ve talked over the years about what it means to be culturally and linguistically responsive, and it doesn’t just mean specific classes,” Romero said. “It means embedded in all of our subjects everywhere. Even though our teachers may not specifically be teaching those classes, they’re teaching students.”

The bill moves next to the House Appropriations and Finance Committee.

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