Tribal Education Trust Fund Passes First Committee

Amendments allow tribes to convene and decide on makeup of task force

Students, left to right, Teagan Toledo and Leianna Lucero dance as Koah Baca drums in the Hemish classroom for the language immersion program at the Walatowa Head Start in Jemez Pueblo in 2022. (Adria Malcolm)

A proposal that would create a Tribal Education Trust Fund has cleared its first committee hurdle. After tabling the vote at a previous meeting in anticipation of amendments, the House Education Committee on Jan. 31 unanimously passed House Bill 134.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Derrick Lente, D-Sandia Pueblo, has tried to establish a version of the trust fund in previous sessions, and this year’s bill would create a non-reverting trust fund with an initial appropriation of $100 million in the state treasury for tribal education departments and assemble a tribally-led task force to determine how to disburse the funds.

The trust fund aims to provide cash to ensure equitable and culturally relevant learning environments and instructional materials; ensure maintenance of Native languages; and provide for educational systems that positively affect Indigenous student outcomes.

The amended version of the bill now calls for the Legislative Education Study Committee to convene representatives from the state’s 23 sovereign Indian nations, tribes and pueblos to “propose an equitable tribal representation,” in accordance with the principle of tribal self-determination. In an earlier draft, the task force would have been made up of nine representatives from specific regions of New Mexico.

“Tribes amongst themselves know that process the best, which is why we afford that to them,” Lente said. “With these changes, the bill gives maximum decision-making power to the sovereign tribes themselves, rather than prescribing who should be at the table when funding decisions get made.”

The task force would determine the criteria for equitable trust fund distribution.

Rep. Joy Garratt, D-Albuquerque, said she supports the idea of base funding for all tribes, along with a formula that takes tribal populations into account.

“The student count is vital, because we have tribes with a couple dozen students, and we have tribes like the Navajo [Nation],” Garratt said. “Sometimes when we do funding, every tribe and pueblo gets the same base [funding] despite the disparity in size, so I’m glad that you included it as a thing to be considered.”

Rep. Cristina Parajón, D-Albuquerque, asked if students would be allowed to serve on the task force, and Lente said this would also be possible.

“This amendment, to me, represents the highest respect that we’re paying in accordance with the sovereign nations, allowing sovereign nations to determine where the funding will go and decide on the makeup of their task force,” Parajón said.

Rep. Brian Baca, R-Los Lunas, moved to adopt the amendments and recommend passage, and lawmakers approved the measure 10-0. Reps. Susan Herrera, D-Embudo; Patricia Roybal-Caballero, D-Albuquerque; and Ryan Lane, R-Aztec, were absent. The bill next heads to the House Appropriations and Finance Committee.

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