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.
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.
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.
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