A favorite photo opportunity of Governor Susana Martinez over the last 8 years has been reading children’s books to kids ages 6 to 10 in public schools.
We all now know the real reason why: the kids were not proficient enough to read the children’s books out loud to the Republican Governor.
On Friday, July 20, 2018, Santa Fe District Court Judge Sarah Singleton ruled that the state of New Mexico is violating the constitutional rights of at-risk students by failing to provide them with a sufficient education.
The Court ruling was filed in the case of Yazzie v. state of New Mexico and Martinez v. state of New Mexico.
The District Court ruling came after a two-month trial that concluded in August, 2017.
Nearly 80 witnesses testified during the bench trial.
The consolidated lawsuit was filed by the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund.
The Plaintiffs argued that the New Mexico public schools are inadequately funded.
In a 75-page decision, the court rejected arguments by Governor Susana Martinez’s administration that the education system is improving and for that reason it does not need more funding.
The Court found that the New Mexico Public Education Department (PED) did not do the best it could with the funding it has given by the legislature to the education system.
The Court ruling centers on the guaranteed right under the New Mexico Constitution to a sufficient education for all children.
The lawsuit alleged a severe lack of state funding, resources and services to help students, particularly children from low-income families, students of color, including Native Americans, English-language learners and students with disabilities.
BLISTERING COURT RULING
State District Judge Sarah Singleton pulled no punches with her decision.
The Judge found that it was clear that many New Mexico students are not receiving the basic education in reading, writing and math they should be receiving in our public-school system.
As a matter of law, Judge Singleton wrote the “lack of funds is not a defense to providing constitutional rights.”
In her blistering written opinion, Judge Singleton wrote:
“[The evidence presented at trial] proves that the vast majority of New Mexico’s at-risk children finish each school year without the basic literacy and math skills needed to pursue post-secondary education or a career. … Indeed, overall New Mexico children rank at the very bottom in the country for educational achievement. … The at-risk students are still not attaining proficiency at the rate of non-at-risk students … and the programs being lauded by [the Public Education Department] are not changing this picture.”
According to the judge’s ruling, in New Mexico, 71.6% of the state’s public school students come from low-income families, and 14.4% are English-language learners.
Further, 14.8 percent of students have disabilities, and 10.6 percent are Native American.
Judge Singleton addressing proficiency rates for Native American students said that in the past 3 years, those students’ reading proficiency was at 17.6% and their math proficiency was at 10.4%.
The Court found that New Mexico does not have enough teachers and that New Mexico teachers are among the lowest paid in the country and stated:
“The evidence shows that school districts do not have the funds to pay for all the teachers they need. … [An example is] Gadsden, one of the better performing school districts in the state, has had to eliminate over 53 classroom positions and 15 essential teachers since 2008.”
The Court also faulted the lack of access to technology in rural districts.
Judge Singleton ruling addressed the state teacher evaluation system implemented by the Martinez Administration by saying:
“[The teacher evaluation system] may be contributing to the lower quality of teachers in high-need schools. … In general, punitive teacher evaluation systems that penalize teachers for working in high-need schools contribute to problems in this category of schools.”
The Court wrote that she was not persuaded by the Martinez Administration’s arguments that no new funding is needed because at-risk student performances are improving.
A spokeswoman for the state Public Education Department has decided to appeal the ruling.
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, provided the following statement after the court ruling:
“For too long, New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez and her administration have abandoned their responsibility to kids and public schools. This ruling confirms what parents and educators know—that New Mexico children are deprived of the essential resources, including qualified teachers and support staff, they need. This deprivation is especially severe for those at risk and in need of additional supports—English language learners, Native American students and those in poverty. The ruling also calls out the governor’s obsession with testing over teaching.”
“In New Mexico, it would take $228 million to get public school funding to what it was before the Great Recession, and average teacher pay in the state is nearly 10 percent lower than what it was in 2009. We call on the state to use this ruling as a long-overdue opportunity to overhaul its broken school funding system to ensure all New Mexico children are afforded the public education they deserve and are entitled to. Voters will be going to the polls in November to elect leaders committed to investing in public education.”
NEW MEXICO LAST IN CHILD WELL BEING
The Courts ruling should not come as any surprise to anyone in the education profession and people raising young children.
The court ruling is a confirmation of what has been going on for the last 8 years with the state’s at-risk children under the Republican Martinez Administration.
For the first time in five years, New Mexico has fallen to last among states when it comes to the economic, educational and medical well-being of its children, according to a nonprofit that tracks the status of U.S. kids.
The most troubling in the 2018 Kids Count Data Book is New Mexico’s steep drop in ranking for health care measures which previously a bright spot for the state.
According to the 2018 Kids Count Data Book, 30% of New Mexico’s children were living in poverty in 2016, compared to 19% nationwide that year, the earliest figures available.
In educational measures, the report says 75% of the state’s fourth-graders were not proficient in reading in 2017, compared to 65% nationally, and 80% of eighth-graders were not performing up to par in math in 2017, compared to 67% across the U.S.
Republican Governor Susana Martinez, with her policies and her Secretary of Public Education appointments, especially the appointment of Secretary Hanna Skandera, contributed more than anyone else and she ultimately responsible for our failing education system.
The Judge ordered Governor Susana Martinez, her administration and the New Mexico Legislature to establish a funding system that meets constitutional requirements by April 15, 2019.
The New Mexico legislature is now tasked with putting together a plan to comply with the court’s ruling to be approved in the upcoming 2019 legislative session when we will have a new Governor.
There is no doubt that teacher salaries and resources for Native American youth will need to be addressed by the legislature.
Because of the spike in oil production and revenues, the state is in a much better financial position now to earmark more money for public education, but for how long is the problem.
Oil and gas production booms do not last forever and a permanent funding source is what is needed to sustain reoccurring revenues and expenses in a public education system such as ours.
For the full 8 years of her administration, Governor Martinez has had a less than a stellar working relationship with the New Mexico Legislature.
The relationship Governor Martinez has with the New Mexico Legislature can be characterized as contemptuous and vindictive on her part and it is not at all likely the relationship will improve any over the next 5 months.
Further, Martinez’s Public Education Secretary Hanna Skandera as well as Cabinet Secretary Designate Christopher Roszkowski have both been an absolute disaster especially when it comes to the “school grading” system advocated and implemented by the Republican Martinez Administration.
New Mexico voters are electing a new Governor in November who will be sworn in on January 1, 2019.
It is doubtful Governor Susana Martinez will want or is even willing to make anything easy for her successor, especially if a Democrat is elected.
January 1, 2019 cannot come soon enough for Governor Martinez and her Education Secretary to be gone.
With this court ruling, maybe now the New Mexico Legislature will finally see the need to dip into the State’s permanent fund, one of the largest in the country in the billions of dollars, for the sake of our kids’ education and early childhood care and intervention programs.
State Senator John Arthur Smith, the powerful Chair of the Legislative Finance Committee (LFC) known as Dr. NO on State Finances and Taxation, needs to get the hell out of the way and allow the New Mexico Legislature to do its job and address the education crisis with use of the permanent fund instead of being the number one obstacle in using the permanent fund.
New Mexico Governor candidates Democrat Michelle Lujan Grisham and Republican Steve Pearce need to articulate in no uncertain terms their plans to deal with funding the State’s education system to guarantee that at-risk students are provided with an education where they can read and write.
Further, our candidates for Governor should reveal their position on the use of the States Permanent fund for education, early child care intervention and counseling for preschool and who, or what they are looking at, to be appointed Cabinet Secretary for the Public Education Department.
The Legislative Finance Committee needs to convene special hearings over the next five months on public education reforms, funding and increasing teacher pay, early childhood education and care programs and intervention programs and resources with a permanent funding source.
The comprehensive education reform legislation can be introduced for passage in the upcoming 2019 legislative session when Governor Martinez will be long gone, but not the education crisis of her making.
It is long overdue for our legislature to take care of our children’s education needs.
As for Governor Susanna Martinez, her legacy will be that of illiterate New Mexico children she liked to read to and a “punitive teacher evaluation system that penalized teachers for working in high-need schools”.
Governor Martinez will also be remembered for a pizza and beer holiday party at a Santa Fe, Hotel at taxpayer expense.