PED calls for input on a plan to improve equal access to public education

Teacher-student diversity gap in New Mexico remains stark

By: - May 13, 2022 6:58 am

Classroom barrack at an elementary school in the Barelas neighborhood of Albuquerque (Photo by Marisa Demarco / Source NM)

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

The plan comes in response to the Yazzie-Martinez lawsuit that unveiled a history of failures by the state in providing adequate education for a majority of public school students. The case resulted in the court ordering New Mexico to fix the system.

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

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

The state’s 55-page followup four years after the ruling also outlines several efforts by the state to adhere to the court order.

Read the state’s full draft plan for responding to the Yazzie-Martinez ruling.

Language curriculum

One, the state says it is working on a plan with tribal leaders to build out a curriculum 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 boost reading and math proficiency rates for Native American students by 50% by the end of the 2025-26 school year, according to the PED. In 2019, proficiency rates for this group of students was 25% in reading and 12% in math.

Money is a key example of support for 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 2019 to $15 million in 2023. The bulk of this funding is going toward growing tribal library systems to offer greater resources, such as broadband internet. 

Tech 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 part of these focus districts, and many struggled with internet access for students before and during pandemic-era remote learning. 

Comment on the education action plan

Send your written input to [email protected] 

Deadline Friday, June 17 at 5 p.m. 

Include the following in your response:

  • Your name (title optional) 
  • Designate whether you’re representing yourself or an organization 
  • Phone Number (include area code) 
  • Email address

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

The state said it will also expand the pilot project to reach students in the most remote areas via telecast transmitters out of the local PBS station that sends their homework 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

Teacher 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 — up from the 571 openings in 2020.

Major gaps in teacher diversity mean there’s also a push to recruit new teachers who better represent the students they serve.

During the 2020-2021 school year, white teachers accounted for 59% of the educators employed by NMPED. Hispanic teachers represented 34%, Native American teachers 3% and African American teachers 2%.

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

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

To bring in more educators, the state is investing millions of dollars into homegrown recruitment and offering school employees who are not teachers education incentives to go to school and get a teacher's license. Through the Grow Your Own Teachers Scholarship launched in 2019, state officials say 180 scholarships have been awarded through the program.

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

On top of a pay raise, the state is also offering loan repayment programs and grants for professional development to assist teachers.


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Shaun Griswold
Shaun Griswold

Shaun Griswold is a journalist in Albuquerque. He is a citizen of the Pueblo of Laguna, and his ancestry also includes Jemez and Zuni on the maternal side of his family. He grew up in Albuquerque and Gallup. He brings a decade of print and broadcast news experience. Shaun reports on issues important to Native Americans in urban and tribal communities throughout the state, including education and child welfare.