Even before the Associated Press projected the ballot initiative would pass, organizers were celebrating the victory. (Photo by Shaun Griswold / Source NM)
With the number of newborns, preschoolers and K-12 kids in attendance it was a good thing the watch party for Constitutional Amendment 1 wrapped up before 9 p.m. since some of the children were asleep by the time the race was called in their favor.
When they wake up and hear the news, they will learn that New Mexico voters overwhelmingly changed state law to increase funding for their public schools by hundreds of millions of dollars each year.
“I got emotional because this is a big step for our children. And this is what we’ve been fighting for, for so long,” Wilhelmina Yazzie said.
Yazzie (Diné) is the Yazzie in the landmark education lawsuit Yazzie-Martinez. She successfully sued the state of New Mexico, and in 2018, won a judgment saying the state must improve its public school systems for students that are Native American, English learners, living with disabilities and in poverty.
The amendment means that the state must increase the amount of money it spends on public education. That extra funding will come from the Land Grant Permanent Fund, an investment savings portfolio made up of royalties from business conducted on state land, such as oil and gas exploration. Voters were asked if they would approve a 1.5% increase to go toward schools. Estimates show that more than $250 million will be available for the next fiscal year.
Yazzie said she’s been working for years to get to this point where money will now be available to pay for reform. The money could give the state an avenue to fund the programs that will bring New Mexico into compliance with the judgment order from the lawsuit.
When she started the lawsuit in 2014, her oldest son was in eighth grade. He’s a sophomore in college now, she says, and recognizes these battles might not directly help him but those who got to New Mexico public schools now and in the future.
“What we’re fighting for, my son doesn’t get it,” she said. “But it’s for our children now in the present time and our new generation that are coming through, especially from pre-K, early childhood education, all that.”
Yazzie said she is also ecstatic that money from business on state land is finally going to support education for Native students.
“The permanent fund that this is coming from is all from our resources from our Indigenous lands. This is a big win. Now, it can go back to our Indigenous children.”
Ahtza Chavez, co-founder of the Native American Voters Alliance, said this amendment was a significant victory for Indigenous communities because it comes months after tribes united behind redistricting maps. This is the first election with the new maps, and she said this year’s election shows tribes are still working together for a shared goal.
“We knew that this had to happen. The ability for us to encourage our voters to get out there and vote for this, so that it can come back to some of our youth, has been exciting,” said Chavez (Diné/Kewa). “And it wasn’t just Native voters, it was all of the BIPOC communities coming together and saying, like, we’re going to make this happen for our kids.”
Now the work begins, so Chavez and Yazzie aren’t taking too much time off.
Yazzie wants to see more reform of the public education system to meet specific needs of Native students through culturally relevant classwork and traditional language programs.
“Our first public school system was established to assimilate us,” she said. “And, you know, our ancestors fought back. And now we’re here. We’re still here. Still fighting.”
Chavez wants state lawmakers to look at school systems already in place that meet this need and then model them statewide.
“We have the Keres Learning Center. We have Walatowa Headstart. These are programs that are teaching our culture, our heritage and our language,” she said. “I think that’s going to be instrumental to how we create change, and that Indigenous power that we’re looking for in the future.”
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