By: Sommer Mitchell
We have all heard the numbers over and over again about how poorly New Mexico ranks in education. Despite legislative committees and taskforces repeatedly acknowledging that our schools are under-resourced, state legislative efforts fail to resolve these critical issues year after year. This is precisely why a lawsuit against the state became essential. The NM Center on Law and Poverty wrote, “Continuing to fail New Mexico children is not just unacceptable and immoral; it’s illegal.” The New Mexico Constitution guarantees a “uniform system of free public schools sufficient for the education of all the children of school age.” The idea for the Martinez and Yazzi Lawsuit came about in 2008. It took until 2012 for the proceedings to get underway and until just last year to actually win. On July 20, 2018, Judge Sarah Singelton ruled that all New Mexico Students have the right to be college and career ready and the State is failing to meet this obligation. Judge Singelton also ruled that lack of funds is not an excuse for denying our students a sufficient education and our state must come up with the necessary funding to meet New Mexico students’ right to a sufficient education.
Until recently, most of the conversations around the lawsuit have taken place in Northern New Mexico. However, through a chance connection between Transform New Mexico and New Mexico State University, the discussion picked up right here in Doña Ana County this past November. Dr. Dulcinea Lara (Director of Borderlands & Ethnic Studies Program at NMSU) stating, “It’s hard to stay in the loop down here in Southern New Mexico. The purpose of this meeting was mostly informational to educate people as to what is going on. However, we also want to know more and be more involved in policy. This convening was just the beginning of many conversations that will take place to that end.” This sentiment is echoed by others such as Patricia Jimenez-Latham from Transform Education NM saying, “We want to ensure we do not become complacent. It’s important that everyone stay involved and connected. This is not a one and done scenario and we need to make sure the conversation continues.” Deloris Martinez who is the grandmother of the lead plaintiff on the Martinez side of the lawsuit, maintains “this is the only lawsuit of its’ kind in our state. It’s not going to happen overnight and we must stay engaged.”
The local convening began with New Mexico State University’s President Dr. John Floros introducing the event as “a very critical first meeting” stating “This is the beginning of significant change to help our kids get a much better education that will result in a society that is more open, more accepting, more inclusive, and more forward-thinking.” Dr. Lara followed President Floros offering a deeper context and understanding of our present-day situation and how we came to need the Martinez and Yazzi lawsuit. She tells “I interpret this ruling as responding directly to historical wounds. In 1848 this land changed hands from Mexico to the United States at the conclusion of the US Mexico War. Often times schools are one of the first institutions established after war. The schools that already existed were closed and replaced by Territory schools. The Nuevo Mexicano people were labeled as minorities in their own homeland, their culture ridiculed, erased and criminalized. These were the kinds of lessons taught to children in the Territory schools. Children have long been considered the most effective way to suppress and manipulate poor communities.” Dr. Lara tells a compelling story of a vote that ended with a landslide turnout to eliminate compulsory education in the Territory schools. This victory for the people was overturned and dismissed as an opposition to education. The District Attorney for the Territory stating that the results of the vote prove “the people are so far sunk in ignorance that they are not capable of judging of the advantages of education. From this result, the cause of education has but little to hope for from the popular will, and the verdict shows that the people love darkness rather than light.”
With these kinds of circumstances surrounding the history of our schools, it is no wonder we need a court ruling to stop the status quo and redefine education in New Mexico. We must understand what multicultural education looks like for our students and our teachers. Author Sandra Cisneros defines Multiculturalism as “The ability to see yourself in the person most unlike you.” This is the level of awareness that we need to have ourselves and teach to our children. “The Martinez and Yazzi Lawsuit is important to New Mexico State University because it is important to the preparation of our incoming students, and critical for the education of New Mexicans. The lack of student preparation is a big problem for higher education in NM. Improved educational outcomes from our public schools will improve the lives of individuals, which in turn will improve our communities and our state.” Says President Dr. John Floros.
In all the conversation, resounding positivity assures that solutions exist and we are not having to recreate things. A uniform and sufficient education is a right protected by the NM Constitution and as such, it has been given priority funding. The legislative branch must appropriate funds and from there, we can identify the programs that are already working, fund them fully and monitor them. Though optimism is rumbling, so is sufferance. “In order to do something that is really transformational it has to be grounded in community and that takes time” – Gwen Perea Warniment, Public Education Division