(Photo by Shaun Griswold / Source NM)
More community-based education for Indigenous students could make its way to schools and early childhood programs in New Mexico if support for House Bill 148 continues.
This legislation, which would have the state enter agreements with Native nations to create relevant early education standards, unanimously passed through the House Government, Elections and Indian Affairs Committee Monday morning.
It heads to the House Education Committee next.
The New Mexico Early Childhood and Education Department said in a Fiscal Impact Report that it already enters into intergovernmental agreements with tribal nations when there’s funding. The agency noted that although the legislation would require those agreements, it doesn’t give the state any funding to do so, according to the report.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Derrick Lente (D-Sandia Pueblo) is part of a package asking lawmakers to boost support for local tribal education departments to create measures that could eventually help the state meet mandates from the Yazzie-Martinez lawsuit. That case showed the state fails students that are Native American, English language learners, and students living with disabilities and in poverty.
Groups representing tribal education were joined with support by organizations around New Mexico at the Roundhouse and on Zoom.
Austin Weahkee (Cochiti/Zuni/Navajo) is the Indigenous Justice Policy advocate at the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico. He said this bill will help address the inequities found in the lawsuit.
“It provides tribes with an ability to create a continuum of education with our children,” he said.
Weahkee said the bill also follows suit with the will of voters in 2022 to prioritize early childhood education after 70% of New Mexican voters approved a constitutional amendment to add more state money to these education programs.
“This bill allows tribes, those with expertise and intimate knowledge of their own communities, to address, adapt and form functional early childhood education to meet the mandate for voters,” he said.
Christine Sims (Acoma) is the director of UNM’s American Indian Language Policy Research and Teacher Training Center. She said this bill would allow tribes to teach children their heritage languages — “something that is not addressed in mainstream early childhood education programs.”
“We feel that this would be an opportunity for our own tribal communities to implement what they have always prioritized,” Sims said, “in terms of language and culture being the foundations for our Native children.”
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