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NM Governor's Race Puts Spotlight on Education

National school funding data shows that some of the poorest states in the country spend $1,000 more per pupil than New Mexico. (
National school funding data shows that some of the poorest states in the country spend $1,000 more per pupil than New Mexico. (
November 5, 2018

SANTA FE, N.M. — Thirty-six states will elect new governors tomorrow, and in New Mexico, educational funding promises to be a huge issue for whoever next holds the office.

Incumbent Susana Martinez is term-limited, which means either Democrat Michelle Lujan Grisham or Republican Steve Pearce is headed to the Santa Fe Governor's Mansion in January. The election follows a judge's ruling in July that found New Mexico's education system violated the state constitution because it failed to provide students a sufficient public education.

Gail Evans was lead counsel on the lawsuit for the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty and said policy makers need to be ready to fix the system.

"Our students need more programs and services; our students need extended learning opportunities; our students need pre-K; our students need more social services in the schools,” Evans said. “And that's part of a basic, sufficient education."

The ruling requires the state to take immediate steps to provide at-risk students with appropriate resources by April of 2019. Lujan Grisham has said if she's elected, she will end any appeal of the judge's ruling, while Pearce has stopped short of making such a commitment.

New Mexico regularly ranks at or near the bottom in surveys assessing educational achievement. The court ruling did not specify how state leaders and lawmakers should address the issue, but noted that New Mexico's children are "caught in an inadequate system and will remain there if better programs are not instituted."

Evans argued the ruling should not be a political issue, but rather a constitutional one that recognizes the need for the state to reform its educational system.

"It would be a mistake to pour resources into an appeal,” she said. “I think the court's decision is very sound, it's very well-reasoned and thought out and it only confirms something that we've all known."

Economists in New Mexico expect the state to have an additional $1.2 billion in the next annual budget, in part from increased oil and gas revenues, which could help fund public education. But the judge's ruling made it clear that a "lack of funds is not a defense to providing constitutional rights."

Roz Brown, Public News Service - NM