A landmark education funding lawsuit in New Mexico, filed by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEEF) and the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty, will force the state to spend millions more in public education funding. The plaintiffs argued that Native American students, English language learners, and low-income students were not receiving the educational opportunities guaranteed in the NM state constitution. State District Judge Sarah Singleton ruled on July 20, 2018, in favor of the plaintiffs, writing that by not providing students with an adequate public education system, NM violated the rights of at-risk students. It is not known yet if the state will appeal the decision.
Native American leaders in particular hailed the decision. “For Native American children and for the sovereign nations of New Mexico, this is historic. This is monumental. This is a landmark decision,” said Regis Pecos, a founder of the founders of the Native American Budget and Policy Institute. The ruling was also praised by Latinx educators and school superintendents across the state.
New Mexico will have until April 2019 to develop a strategy to improve public education, which will pressure the state legislature to focus on this matter. The judge did not set a monetary amount that the state needs to spend. Both candidates for NM governor, Democrat Michelle Luhan Grisham and Republican Steve Pierce, have declared their interest in remedying this situation, though it is likely their approaches will be different. The NM budget is highly dependent on oil and gas production, which has recently been on the upswing.
This judgment is an implied criticism of outgoing Republic Governor Susana Martinez’s educational policy for the previous eight years, which focused primarily on standardized testing and accountability for teachers. New Mexico is consistently ranked last or almost last in educational achievement in the US.