Public Education Plan To Deal With Landmark Case Mandates Of Yazzie v. State Announced; Critics Speak Out; APS Board Enacts $1.936 Billion Budget; State Windfall Makes Implementation Possible

On May 14, the New Mexico Public Education Department released a detailed plan to address the landmark public education court case of Yazzie v. State and Martinez and mandated reforms to improve the New Mexico’s failing public education system and offer better and equal opportunities for all students.

The Yazzie v. State and Martinez lawsuit was brought by a coalition of parents, students, lawmakers and others in 2014. It charged the New Mexico Public Education Department (PED) had not done enough to address the needs of Native Americans, English-language learners, disabled and low-income students.


The release plan by the Grisham administration is and includes improvements for every aspect of the education system. The link to review the plan is here:

According to the draft of the plan, it should be considered as a companion to the New Mexico Public Education Department (NMPED) 2022 Comprehensive Strategic Plan which offers remedies to the Yazzie/Martinez decision embedded throughout. According to the plan, the work that lies ahead for NMPED and schools will require systemic change to address the needs of the students and families impacted by decades of neglect and underfunding, including students with disabilities, Native American students, English learners, and economically disadvantaged students. These students account for over 70% of the population in New Mexico’s public schools.

The action plan states that for New Mexico students and their families to realize their full potential, it is incumbent upon both NMPED and its partners, especially the school districts, to do their part in ensuring educational equity, excellence, and relevance for all students. By implementing the recommendations in this plan, all of New Mexico’s public school students will benefit.

According to the plan of action, NMPED is planning a future in which students are engaged in a culturally and linguistically responsive educational system that meets their academic, social, and emotional needs.

To that end, this action plan is focused on the following long-term goals:

1. Assuring external factors like race, language, economic status, and family situations do not equate with lower rates of success in educational achievement and career prospects.

2. Increasing academic proficiency in math, science, and languages to ensure that all students graduate well prepared for the ever-changing world of college, career, and civic engagement.

3. Eliminating achievement gaps among New Mexico students, particularly English learners, economically disadvantaged students, Hispanics, Native Americans, African Americans, and students with disabilities.

4. Respecting, honoring, and preserving students’ home languages and cultures by implementing culturally and linguistically responsive instruction and learning for all students.


The action plan contains some very big picture goals for public education in New Mexico.

Graduation rates in the last few years have been in the low to mid-70s. The education department wants the statewide graduation rate to get to 90% by 2027. Education leaders also want to close graduation gaps between ethnicities and disadvantaged students.

Another target is improving reading and math proficiency rates. PED leaders want those up by 50% in the next four years.

The plan also focuses on teachers, class sizes, and building on recent successes, including increases in funding. Just this year, the state legislature passed pay raises for teachers and more money for Pre-K programs.

Since the lawsuit, the state has boosted help for economically disadvantaged students, those with disabilities and English learners. It’s also upped funding for more reading programs, extended learning time and more and better internet access.

Outside of funding, PED leadership points out the launch of equity councils and the work to create a response team just for the lawsuit.

The link to news source material is here:


The general public and public education advocacy groups have until June 17 to review and comment on the Public Education Department (PED) action plan released. The education plan is likely to drive immediate reforms by the state Public Education Department. The plan is also intended to generate discussion and budget priorities during the 2023 Legislature that will begin in mid-January.

In addition to the Public Education plan put forth, Native American advocacy groups and tribal leaders submitted their own action plan in 2019 calling it the “Tribal Remedy Framework.” The 2019 plan submitted by the tribes cites language of the Yazzie v. State and Martinez lawsuit and then makes recommendations and suggests funding to carry out the recommendations.

The Public Education Action plan will be used in part by the State District Court Judge assigned the Yazzie v. State and Martinez case to determine whether the state court continues to keep watch over spending and initiatives to improve public education. The 2018 District Court ruling found that the state investments in education, as well as academic outcomes of students, proved 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.”


Critics of the PED plan put forth are now saying it lacks specifics. In particular, they claim the PED plan lacks detailed funding and timelines. Education advocates were expecting the governor’s proposal to be released in December before the January 2022 legislative session, but that didn’t happen. The state budget, including the Public Education Department budget, was passed in February and signed by the Governor.

NM State Representative Derrick Lente of Sandia Pueblo had this to say:

“While I am hopeful and happy [PED] has released its report and are beginning to move on their response, I am still perplexed as to why they have yet to publicly embrace the Tribal Remedy Framework. … We know what’s best for Native kids … .”

The groups involved in the Yazzie v. State and Martinez constitute upwards of 70% of children in the state. The court found that proficiency in reading and math at multiple grade levels was far worse than other students, with around 4% to 15% being proficient, the court found.

Although the PED Action plan sets academic performance goals that include a 50% increase in test scores compared to 2019 numbers for children covered by the lawsuit the education department concedes that it can not currently measure increases. The Public Education Department has changed proficiency tests twice since the 2018 court ruling resulting in the state being unable to argue to the court that the mandated improvements have been made by the PED. Complicating matters, the state did not test students to determine their proficiency for two consecutive years during the pandemic. A new battery of tests of students will be administered this year.

Public Education Department spokeswoman Carolyn Graham said in a statement:

“When New Mexico’s assessment data are finalized and compiled later this summer, the [PED] ) will reset that baseline and the targets defined in the draft action plan will be attached to that data … It’s also important to note that the draft plan is, indeed, a draft, and we expect to receive valuable feedback.”
The plaintiffs in the Yazzie v. State and Martinez lawsuit have welcome the draft plan and the opportunity to respond. However, they are very critical of the plan saying they are not satisfied with the level of detail provided by the state. The PED said last year that the draft would include 90-day benchmarks for shorter-term performance targets. None of that was included in the draft released this month.

Melissa Candelaria, education director with the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty, had this to say in a statement:

“It’s clear that it still lacks the critical elements we have been asking for on a statewide level: concrete goals, action steps, estimated funding levels, timelines, responsible parties, and estimated staffing needs. … Community input is key but would be much more constructive on a fully fleshed out plan.”


The PED Action Plan makes no funding recommendations. However, it highlights the increases in public education enacted by the 2022 legislature, including teacher salary raises and overall education funding increases. New Mexico funds its schools through the state budget and gross receipts tax revenues and oil and gas production revenues and does not relying on property tax revenues. According to Legislative Finance Committee analysts, public education funding accounts for around 45% of the $8.5 billion general fund budget. Unlike most other states.

The Lujan-Grisham Administration in the action plan point out an overhaul of social studies standards that expands focus on Native American history and identity. Those changes have been welcomed by education advocates.

Lujan Grisham spokeswoman Maddy Hayden said the draft is intended to provide a long-term guide and that more specific details will be added after the public comment period. Hayden had this to say:
[The education reforms were developed] collaboratively across many agencies and there is shared understanding and accountability on the part of agencies to get this critical work done. ” Hayden said.
The link to quoted news source material is here:


On Friday, July 20, 2018, Santa Fe District Court Judge Sarah Singleton ruled in the case that the state of New Mexico violated the constitutional rights of at-risk students by failing to provide them with a sufficient education. 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 centered 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.


State District Judge Sarah Singleton pulled no punches with her decision.

The Judge found that it was clear that many New Mexico students were 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, at the time, 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 previous 3 years, those students’ reading proficiency was at 17.6% and their math proficiency was at 10.4%.

Judge Singleton faulted the lack of access to technology in rural districts. The Court also 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.”

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 at the time announced that the State decided to appeal the ruling. However, soon after assuming office on January 1, 2018, Governor Lujan Grisham decided the state would not appeal the case, work to increase funding for public education and changes to the system but committed to an aggressive defense of the case to achieve a dismissal.
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.”


During the 2022 New Mexico legislative session, annual spending for public education increased dramatically. Annual spending on K-12 grade public education was increased by $425 million to $3.87 billion, a 12% boost.

Starting July 1, the base pay for teachers will rise to $50,000, $60,000 and $70,000 depending on the level of a teacher. According to a fiscal impact report, New Mexico’s average teacher salary was just under $55,000 a year. That’s lower than Colorado, Texas and Utah, but higher than Arizona and Oklahoma. Legislators also approved a measure to allow Indigenous language teachers to be paid at the same rate as their peers, even if they don’t have an undergraduate degree. For Native American language teachers paid as teaching assistants in many districts, their salaries could triple

During the 2022 New Mexico legislative session, 3 bills sponsored by Rep. Derrick Lente, D-Sandia Pueblo passed that were are in response to the historic 2018 Yazzie/Martinez court ruling that said New Mexico has denied several groups of students, including Native Americans, their constitutional right to an education. House bills 87, 88 and 90 allocated more than $70 million to tribal entities to help offer culturally relevant lesson plans and access to virtual and after-school programs for those students.

House Bill 87 appropriated $20 million from the state’s general fund to the Indian Education Act to provide educational funding for tribes starting July 1, 2024. The money will be used to create culturally relevant learning programs, including Native language programs, for students in the K-12 system. The Legislative Education Study Committee report said each of the state’s 23 tribal entities would receive $547,826 per year.

House Bill 88 appropriated $21.5 million to help tribal education departments develop learning plans and programs for students, extend learning opportunities and support tribal school libraries. Each tribe and pueblo will get $250,000 a year, with the exception of the Navajo Nation, which would get $500,000, according to the bill’s fiscal report.

House Bill 90 was aimed at higher education. It appropriated $29.6 million to four state colleges and three tribal colleges for 53 initiatives, such as building a Native American teacher pipeline and expanding high school-to-college programs to encourage those students to attend college. The bill’s fiscal impact report says it is assumed the bill would go into effect 90 days after the last day of the Legislature.

The link to quoted news source material is here:


On June 1, the Albuquerque Public School Board approved a nearly $2 Billion dollar budget for the upcoming fiscal year the commenced-on July 1, 2020. It was a split vote of 4 to 3. Board members Yolanda Montoya-Cordova, Peggy Muller-Aragón, Barbara Petersen and Josefina Domínguez voted yes on the proposed budget, while Danielle Gonzales, Crystal Tapia-Romero and Courtney Jackson voted no. Several board members expressed concerned over how much the the $1.936 billion budget had grown from last year’s $1.868 billion. They also questioned where cuts were made.

The biggest portion of the budget goes to the operational fund which accounts for nearly 45% of the total budget at over $869.1 million. APS is projected to spend $10.3 million more than it will collect this year. That amount is less than last year, when the district’s deficit was around $45 million. The district’s savings from vacancies will be approximately $7.9 million. $2.4 million will also be used from APS’ $52.7 million cash reserve to balance the budget.

During the June 1 meeting to approve the budget, information on the proposed budget included staff allocations, “at-risk” funding and programs and budget cuts. The cuts presented included 70 support staff positions, 36 elective courses and 27 administrative positions being cut across all grades. Only 16 instructional positions were cut.

The approved budget includes spending of over $27.6 million on increases for teacher salaries and over $39.5 million on 7% raises for public education staff.

APS employee raises will be paid in two phases with 3% payments for this year’s fourth quarter then followed up with an additional 4% raise next fiscal year. Teacher raises will be increased if they don’t reach the average $10,000 minimum salary increases for teachers, or the new minimum $15 per hour wage.

On May 31, APS and the Albuquerque Teachers Federation announced a tentative agreement on raises for many instructional support providers. The agreement guarantee some 850 licensed employees would be given the same minimum salary increases that were legislated for teachers earlier this year.

Over $3.5 million is set aside in the proposed budget for other at-risk service providers. During last week’s meeting, Executive Director of Budget Rosalinda Montoya said those included nurses, counselors, social workers and other instructional support providers.


State funding will sharply increase in the coming fiscal year that starts on July 1. The state funding increase is the direct result of raises approved by the 2022 legislative session for teachers and other public education employees. APS received $719.3 million in 2022, and is expecting $787.4 million in state funds next year. Despite the over $68 million rise in state funds, APS expects increased costs will exceed money from the state by over $12.2 million.

During last week’s meeting, the board also approved emergency money for fuel allocated by the Public Education Department. In May, APS was allocated $467,898 for increased fuel costs in 2022. Transportation is expected to run the district over $21.4 million. APS estimated fuel cost increases at $373,000.

Link to quoted news source material is here:


On Friday, May 13, legislative economist told the New Mexico Legislative Finance Committee that state revenue collections for the current budget year are up by more than $440 million than was projected in December, 2021.

The large cash infusion to the state no doubt will allow for more spending in areas to deal with the public education mandates of the Yazzie v. Martinez landmark decision.

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Pete Dinelli was born and raised in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He is of Italian and Hispanic descent. He is a 1970 graduate of Del Norte High School, a 1974 graduate of Eastern New Mexico University with a Bachelor's Degree in Business Administration and a 1977 graduate of St. Mary's School of Law, San Antonio, Texas. Pete has a 40 year history of community involvement and service as an elected and appointed official and as a practicing attorney in Albuquerque. Pete and his wife Betty Case Dinelli have been married since 1984 and they have two adult sons, Mark, who is an attorney and George, who is an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT). Pete has been a licensed New Mexico attorney since 1978. Pete has over 27 years of municipal and state government service. Pete’s service to Albuquerque has been extensive. He has been an elected Albuquerque City Councilor, serving as Vice President. He has served as a Worker’s Compensation Judge with Statewide jurisdiction. Pete has been a prosecutor for 15 years and has served as a Bernalillo County Chief Deputy District Attorney, as an Assistant Attorney General and Assistant District Attorney and as a Deputy City Attorney. For eight years, Pete was employed with the City of Albuquerque both as a Deputy City Attorney and Chief Public Safety Officer overseeing the city departments of police, fire, 911 emergency call center and the emergency operations center. While with the City of Albuquerque Legal Department, Pete served as Director of the Safe City Strike Force and Interim Director of the 911 Emergency Operations Center. Pete’s community involvement includes being a past President of the Albuquerque Kiwanis Club, past President of the Our Lady of Fatima School Board, and Board of Directors of the Albuquerque Museum Foundation.