Lawmaker, educator, wants language programs to lead public school education reform

Proposal seeks $27M to build ‘pipelines’ to fund bilingual education programs in higher ed that can train teachers to go into K-12 schools in New Mexico

By: - January 16, 2024 4:25 am

The goal of the proposal is to support bilingual and culturally-responsive education in the state’s public schools, reform that is required under the Yazzie-Martinez judgment. (Photo by Anna Padilla for Source New Mexico)

Bilingual education programs in New Mexico sit in a precarious place. 

There’s often only one teacher taking on the role – and if they go, so does the program. Beyond that, other programs that cater to diverse students are dwindling from lack of staffing.

That’s why House Bill 39 lays out more than $27 million in funds for bilingual education, culturally-relevant education and student health, according to its sponsor Rep. Yanira Gurrola (D-Albuquerque).

The bill would allocate funding to public colleges and universities, tribal colleges in the state and the Public Education Department to help bring New Mexico into compliance with the Yazzie-Martinez ruling. In 2018, a judge ruled that New Mexico was failing to provide the majority of its students in public schools with an adequate education to the point that it was unconstitutional. 

HB 39 lists 40 items that would be funded by the general fund. 

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s budget proposal highlights $6 billion in K-12 and higher education combined, focusing on adding financial support for families and students, expanding availability of child care and learning opportunities, and improving student success by bolstering attendance and childhood literacy.

Gurrola, who is also an educator, said her bill addresses the reality that robust student-success programs require extensive funding.

“It’s very heartbreaking when you see the budget these programs need to survive,” she said. “We want to make sure these programs are elevated.”

The money in the bill won’t go directly to K-12 public schools. Gurrola wants the legislation to build bilingual education programs at colleges and universities to create a pipeline for aspiring educators to stay in New Mexico.

The goal is to support bilingual and culturally-responsive education in the state’s public schools, reform that is required under the Yazzie-Martinez judgment. The proposal also seeks to enable universities to do more outreach to high school students.

Students are missing out on proven methods to increase their success by getting support in ways that reflect their lived experiences, she said. 

Gurrola said staffing challenges often mean students don’t get the same opportunities. That’s why the bill focuses on building capacity to support these programs in the long-term.

“I’ve been to schools where nobody was there to teach math in a multicultural setting,” Gurrola said. “That was not fair for our students. That hurts education equity.”

The bill also gives tribal colleges funding to create their own programs to preserve culture and language and teacher education. 

Last year, Rep. Derrick Lente (D-Sandia Pueblo) tried to pass two bills that would’ve created a tribal education trust fund to support tribes to build infrastructure and culturally-responsive education programs on tribal lands and change the Indian Education Act to give more money directly to tribes, respectively.

Both bills died as a result of disagreements between stakeholders about funding distribution.

It’s also something that he’s committed to bring back during the 30-day session.

Gurrola said it was important to her that tribal colleges receive autonomy to develop programs that reflect their community’s needs.

“Many have said, ‘You have told us for a long time what to do and it hasn’t been successful, so we’ll take it from here,’” she said. “And I think they have the right to say that and do what they need for their communities. They are the experts.”

Attorneys representing the plaintiffs in Yazzie-Martinez said in October that the state is failing to provide a comprehensive plan to address education inequities and is not enforcing how districts spend money. 

Two months prior, New Mexico Attorney General Raúl Torrez made a bid to take over the case as advocates criticized the Lujan Grisham administration for being resistant to creating change.

Meanwhile, New Mexico House Republicans made their own case for education reform this week with the announcement of a scholarship tax credit aimed at helping low-income families send their children to private schools. 

Businesses and individuals would be able to contribute to  fund school tuition organizations that provide scholarships to low-income students attending private schools. Contributors would receive a “dollar-for-dollar” tax credit of up to $700 for individuals and $1,400 for married couples.

“Every child in New Mexico deserves access to high-quality education, irrespective of their zip code or socio-economic status,” said House GOP Leader Ryan Lane (R-Aztec). “This scholarship tax credit program is a significant step towards that goal, putting the power of choice in the hands of parents and students.”

Critics of school choice in New Mexico have said similar plans would divert funds from public schools.

Gurrola said the need for building up language and cultural programs in higher education would help bring relief to K-12 public schools struggling to create such programs with a lack of staffing and funding.

“If we don’t act now, we’re going to regret it later,” she said. “This bill is about solutions and creating a plan to address what students are facing in their classrooms.”

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Megan Taros
Megan Taros

Megan Taros is a freelance reporter for Source NM. She is born and raised in the harbor area of Los Angeles where she began her career covering higher education and local government. She previously launched the South Phoenix beat at the Arizona Republic where she covered race and equity in one of the largest communities of color in the state. She also launched the Latino affairs beat at the Times-News in Twin Falls, Idaho. She is a graduate of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism where she covered racial and economic inequality in Queens, New York.

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