DEP seeks input on plan to improve equal access to public education

State officials want people to give their input on the action plan to reform New Mexico’s education system.

The plan comes in response to the Yazzie-Martinez lawsuit which exposed a history of state failures to provide adequate education to the majority of public school students. The case led the court to order New Mexico to fix the system.

The work to come? A substantial overhaul after “decades of neglect and underfunding” that have affected young people with disabilities, those learning English, Native Americans and students from low-income families, summarizes the action report.

The Yazzie-Martinez judgment identified at-risk students as 70% of the total K-12 population in the state.

The state’s 55-page follow-up four years after the ruling also outlines several state efforts to comply with the court order.

Language course

First, the state says it is working on a plan with tribal leaders to develop a program model that uses traditional languages ​​and cultural preservation, with a long-term plan to create community-based Native American language programs.

The hope is that this model will increase the reading and math proficiency rates of Native American students by 50 percent by the end of the 2025-26 school year, according to the PED. In 2019, the proficiency rates for this group of students were 25% in reading and 12% in mathematics.

Money is a key supporting example of this need. New Mexico has increased its payments to the Indian Education Fund, aid that goes directly to tribal education departments, from $1.8 million in 2019 to $15 million in 2023. Most of this funding is for to the growth of tribal library systems to provide greater resources, such as high-speed Internet.

Technical access

In total, New Mexico has 89 school districts. The Yazzie-Martinez judgment highlights 23 that have the highest rate of at-risk students.

School districts in Gallup, Cuba, Albuquerque and Las Cruces are among those target districts, and many have struggled with internet access for students before and during remote learning in the age of the pandemic.

Education Action Plan Commentary

Send your written contribution to [email protected]

Deadline Friday, June 17 at 5 p.m.

Include the following in your response:

  • Your name (title optional)
  • Indicate if you represent yourself or an organization
  • Telephone number (include area code)
  • E-mail address

Access to the Navajo Nation is expected to increase after the tribal government mobilized $70 million in federal matching funds to build fiber lines in the Pine Hill and Ramah areas, according to NMPED.

The state said it will also expand the pilot to reach students in more remote areas via television broadcast transmitters from the local PBS station that sends their assignments to their televisions.

Education officials want every student to have access to a digital device by the end of the 2023-2024 school year. They also estimate that every student will have access to reliable high-speed internet by the 2025-2026 school year.

More teachers

Teaching vacancies have doubled since last year, according to the NMSU Southwest Outreach Academic Research Evaluation and Policy Center. In 2021, the state reported 1,048 vacancies, compared to 571 openings in 2020.

Significant gaps in teacher diversity also mean that there is a push to recruit new teachers who better represent the students they serve.

In the 2020-2021 school year, white teachers made up 59% of educators employed by NMPED. Hispanic teachers made up 34%, Native American teachers 3%, and African American teachers 2%.

Now compare that to the overall student population which is 23% white, 62% Hispanic, 10% Native American, and 5% African American and you have what education officials call “l ‘teacher-student diversity gap’, which can lead to poorer outcomes for students of color.

“It is well established that students thrive when their teachers reflect the community in which they work,” says the action plan.

To attract more educators, the state is investing millions of dollars in local recruitment and offering school employees who are not teachers incentives to attend school and obtain a teacher’s license. Through the Grow Your Own Teachers Scholarship launched in 2019, state officials say 180 scholarships have been awarded under the program.

PED also plans to spend $35 million on a project to help pay for 490 education fellows who are educational assistants who want to transition into becoming full-time teachers where they work.

In addition to a pay raise, the state also offers loan repayment programs and professional development grants to help teachers.

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