On June 12, attorneys for New Mexico students, parents and school districts made opening statements in a Santa Fe courtroom, starting a trial whose outcome could determine the future quality of education for the state’s 339,000 public school children.
Marisa Bono, plaintiffs’ lead attorney, underscored the State’s “failings” in providing all children “the opportunity to succeed,” noting that the State “is pumping hundreds of thousands of students into the state economy who are wholly unprepared for college or career.”
The State defendants, represented by the State Attorney General, trotted out the usual “money doesn’t matter” defense, asserting that “additional spending will have virtually no effect on student” outcomes. The Attorney General also disavowed any legal responsibility under the education clause of the New Mexico constitution to address the educational challenges caused by student poverty.
In 2014, the plaintiff students and parents, represented by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF), filed Martinez v. State, seeking to establish education as a fundamental right and ensure that the State provides essential educational opportunities to its children who are economically disadvantaged, English learners, Native-American, and/or of Spanish-heritage, as required by the New Mexico Constitution. The New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty filed a similar case, Yazzie v. State, and the cases were consolidated for trial.
The trial court denied the State’s motion to dismiss the case. The State recently moved for summary judgment on several issues, all of which were denied by Judge Sarah Singleton. Judge Singleton gave the green light to plaintiffs to present evidence on their claims, including a claim for high quality preschool for at-risk children.
The New Mexico Constitution imposes upon the New Mexico Legislature several obligations, including maintaining a “uniform system of free public schools sufficient for the education of, and open to, all the children of school age;” the training of teachers to “become proficient in both the English and Spanish languages, to qualify them to teach Spanish-speaking pupils;” and a prohibition against denying New Mexico’s Latino children “the right and privilege of admission and attendance in the public schools” in “perfect equality with other children in all public schools and educational institutions in the state.”
Similar to Montana, the New Mexico Legislature has enacted statutes that guarantee educational opportunities to students under the Indian Education Act, Hispanic Education Act, and Bilingual Multicultural Education Act. Plaintiffs will present evidence in support of their claim that the State is in violation of each of these state laws.
The trial is scheduled to last nine weeks. Education Law Center will continue to report developments in this important litigation.
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