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NM Roundhouse Legal Battle Stokes Hopes for Education

Unusual circumstances in the New Mexico Legislature have family advocacy groups in the state hoping for more education funding. (Public Domain/Creative Commons)
Unusual circumstances in the New Mexico Legislature have family advocacy groups in the state hoping for more education funding. (Public Domain/Creative Commons)
April 20, 2017

SANTA FE, N.M. — New Mexico's Legislative Council hasn't ruled out the possibility of suing Gov. Susana Martinez ahead of a potential special session of the Legislature. And family advocates are watching closely, hoping for a resolution that helps education in the state.

Lawmakers passed a bipartisan financial plan that the governor signed - but only after removing every cent of higher education funding. She also vetoed House Bill 202, which would close tax loopholes for some businesses and make millions available to primary schools.

Sharon Kayne, communications director with New Mexico Voices for Children, said her group is one of many hoping lawmakers will turn around the state's dire education funding situation.

"Schools have been required to consistently do more with less, and that ends up meaning there are crowded classrooms, there are not enough teachers,” Kayne said. "There are not enough teaching materials. Teachers can't even get the district to pay for scotch tape."

According to Kayne, Albuquerque junior high schools recently eliminated all sports, because they said they can no longer afford them. Meanwhile, Gov. Martinez has stood by her strict policy of not increasing taxes, and has accused lawmakers of wasting time with the tax legislation they presented.

The governor has said that by refusing to approve any funding for higher education, she has resisted playing into the institutional politics of colleges and universities. But Kayne said lawmakers see it as a move to draw them back to the Roundhouse over the budget, in a session that will cost around $50,000 a day. Kayne said it's families who are put in jeopardy over this kind of posturing.

"You know, we gave big cuts to corporations. That hasn't brought us any jobs,” she said. "We’ve divested ourselves, our higher education. We've cut spending by about 30 percent on a per student basis, which is enormous. And tuition has gone up incredibly high to compensate for that."

Kayne said that low- and middle-income families will be the the benefactors, whether the governor yields in a lawsuit, or decides to compromise in a rare extraordinary session of the legislature. A date has yet to be set for either, on the legislative or judicial calendars.

Brett McPherson, Public News Service - NM