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NM Legislature Faces Mandatory 'Rethink' of Education System

New Mexico has until April to ensure the state's schools receive adequate resources to meet the needs of at-risk students, based on a court order handed down last year. (lanlfoundation.org)
New Mexico has until April to ensure the state's schools receive adequate resources to meet the needs of at-risk students, based on a court order handed down last year. (lanlfoundation.org)
January 2, 2019

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — New Mexico state lawmakers say their number-one priority in the upcoming legislative session is to improve the state's public education system - a pledge they'll need to keep based on a court order.

In July 2018, a state district judge ruled that New Mexico was violating the rights of at-risk students. President of the New Mexico Education Association Betty Patterson said resources for low-income and minority families, including Native American and special-needs students, will need to be improved, according to language in the court ruling.

"That says that students who are at risk need to have higher funding and more of their needs need to be met,” Patterson said. “So a lot of the things we're going to be pushing through will meet that lawsuit and the requirements of the judge."

The court ruling stemmed from a lawsuit filed in 2014 by advocacy groups and school districts that accused the state of not meeting constitutional obligations to provide all students with a sufficient education. The New Mexico Legislature convenes for a 60-day session on January 15.

Patterson said legislators also will need to address salaries across school districts if they don't want educators fleeing to other states for better-paying jobs.

"We really are looking this year for compensation packages where educators get a better increase in salaries and all school employees get at least a 10 percent raise in their salaries,” she said.

New Mexico consistently ranks last or near-last in the nation for its public education system. But with a newly elected Democratic governor, House and Senate Democratic majorities and extra state income from the booming oil and gas industry, Patterson said she hopes this is the year for a turnaround.

"But we need to do whatever it takes to get New Mexico students out of the 50th spot in the nation,” she said. “It's time for our students to be moving up."

Michelle Lujan Grisham, who was sworn in as New Mexico's new governor on Tuesday, has vowed to overhaul the current teacher evaluation system that relies on an "A-to-F" grading system for public schools.

Roz Brown, Public News Service - NM