Tribal early education proposal to be heard today

The bill is part of a package from Rep. Lente to fund and build education departments in Native American communities

By: - February 6, 2023 5:00 am
Rep. Derrick Lente talks with a visitor at the Roundhouse on Fri. 3, 2023.

Rep. Derrick Lente talks with a visitor at the Roundhouse on Fri. 3, 2023. Lente is sponsoring a slate of bills intent to boost tribal education departments in New Mexico. (Photo by Sharon Chischilly for Source NM)

A proposal to strengthen tribal self-determination in early childhood education will get its first committee hearing in the New Mexico Legislature today.

House Bill 148 would require the New Mexico Early Childhood Education and Care Department to sign agreements with Native nations in the state to run early childhood education and care programs using their own culturally and linguistically relevant standards.

The bill is set to be heard by the House Government, Elections and Indian Affairs Committee this morning at 8:30 a.m. in room 305. The meeting will also be webcast on the Legislature’s website.

Miss Navajo Nation Valentina Clitso (left) speaks with Rep. Patricia Roybal Caballero (right) on the House floor at the New Mexico Legislature on Feb. 3, 2023. Caballero is a supporter of education initiatives that intend to fund tribal education departments in New Mexico. (Photo by Sharon Chischilly for Source NM)

Supporters say the purpose of the proposal, along with three other bills making their way through the Roundhouse, is to address New Mexico’s longstanding failure to provide adequate education to students who are English-language learners, Indigenous, living with disabilities and in poverty.

Four years after the late District Court Judge Sarah Singleton found those failures to violate the New Mexico Constitution, the state has tried to meet the Yazzie-Martinez judgment by increasing funding for school districts that are most impacted, raising teacher salaries to recruit quality educators and other initiatives.

Boarding school history underpins Yazzie Martinez findings on Native education

Rep. Derrick Lente (D-Sandia Pueblo) said these investments are not enough to address the problems highlighted in the Yazzie-Martinez findings.

“At the end of the day, what is needed the most is the capacity within our own communities to be able to source, support and help our students,” Lente said.

That could include language, culture, or anything that complements public schools, higher education or career training, Lente said. It will be up to each education department in tribal nations to determine how they want to steer education reform.

The initial funding for the early childhood programs Lente is proposing would come from House Bill 140, which would set aside $50 million into a Tribal Education Trust Fund. The state Public Education Department would then distribute at least $2.5 million per year to tribal education departments on the Navajo Nation, Apache and Pueblos in New Mexico.

That bill is set to be heard in the House Appropriations and Finance Committee, but has not yet been scheduled for a hearing.

It unanimously passed the House Education Committee on Jan. 27 and has been endorsed by the Legislative Education Study Committee.

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Austin Fisher
Austin Fisher

Austin Fisher is a journalist based in Santa Fe. He has worked for newspapers in New Mexico and his home state of Kansas, including the Topeka Capital-Journal, the Garden City Telegram, the Rio Grande SUN and the Santa Fe Reporter. Since starting a full-time career in reporting in 2015, he’s aimed to use journalism to lift up voices that typically go unheard in public debates around economic inequality, policing and environmental racism.