Legislature 2020

Bill to expand N.M. tribal control over educational programs advances

By Dillon Mullan
The New Mexican
Posted 2/1/20

A measure that would give tribes in New Mexico more control over education initiatives in their communities advanced in the state House on Friday (Jan. 31).

The House Education Committee …

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Legislature 2020

Bill to expand N.M. tribal control over educational programs advances

Posted

A measure that would give tribes in New Mexico more control over education initiatives in their communities advanced in the state House on Friday (Jan. 31).

The House Education Committee unanimously endorsed House Bill 138, which would send $16 million over the next two fiscal years to tribal governments to support libraries and internet infrastructure, as well as early childhood education and Native language programs.

It was one of two measures the panel approved Friday that would provide funding to address a state judge's 2018 ruling in a landmark lawsuit accusing New Mexico of failing some of its most vulnerable students.

The second measure, House Bill 59, would alter the state's school funding formula to provide an additional $50 million for students considered at-risk, such low-income kids and English-language learners.

While the Legislature and governor increased funding in the 2019 legislative session in response to the ruling in Yazzie-Martinez v. State of New Mexico — and are negotiating an additional increase in the current session — some critics have said the efforts aren't sufficient.

According to a report published Wednesday by the nonprofit New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty, which is representing the Yazzie plaintiffs in the education suit, the state is still spending less on education than it did in 2008, when the numbers are adjusted for inflation.

And tribal leaders are asking for more control over how funding is used to boost education outcomes for their children.

"Don't take this paternalistic attitude that has been done for centuries and tell us, 'This is what's good for you,' " Roz Carroll, director of education, research and development for the Jicarilla Apache Department of Education, told lawmakers Friday.

"Let us be your partner to tell you how we can better run our own kids' education," Carroll said, urging a vote in favor of HB 138. "Just give us the tools." 

The bill would provide $500,000 for the Navajo Nation; $250,000 each for the Mescalero Apache Nation and Jicarilla Apache Nation; and $150,000 each for the state's 19 pueblos to develop and staff culturally and linguistically relevant after-school and summer programs at tribal libraries.

Rep. Derrick Lente, D-Sandia Pueblo, who sponsored the bill, said there is now only one state-certified library on tribal land in New Mexico, a facility on the Navajo Nation.

"In each of our respected tribal nations and communities, we have what we like to consider a tribal library, but in many cases it's not a robust library that you might find in the middle of Santa Fe, Las Cruses or Albuquerque," Lente said. "In many cases, it's a closet in some rundown portion of a tribal community building without heating, without air conditioning, without internet infrastructure.

"It may just be a chair and desk somewhere to say, 'OK, we have this subscription of books and sometimes we get new ones; use them.' "

His bill would help improve such facilities.

Rep. Rebecca Dow, R-Truth or Consequences, applauded Lente and HB 138 for attempting to return control of education of Native American students to their tribal communities.

"We spent a lot of time removing children from their homes, building facilities and institutionalizing them, and then we spent decades apologizing for it," Dow said.

After hearing from tribal leaders how rural landscapes force many Native children to endure an hourlong bus ride to the nearest public school, Dow said it seemed the state was making a similar mistake.

"You're saying we want something different," she told Lente. "What I'm hearing from the tribes and Pueblo communities is about family and community involvement by us and for us. Instead, we're trying to do this one-size-fits-all, statewide approach, and it's extremely frustrating."

The committee also unanimously endorsed HB 59, which would boost funding for at-risk students by altering the state's per-student funding formula to assign a higher value to such kids.

While funding for low-income kids and children learning English more than doubled to $253 million in the current fiscal year from around $124 million in fiscal year 2019, superintendents across the state have said they were forced to spend most of that increase on mandatory salary hikes rather than new staff or programs.

"It's another thing to keep in our long-term memory," said Rep. Andrés Romero, a teacher at Atrisco Heritage Academy in Albuquerque and chairman of the House Education Committee.

"Keep our commitment in putting money in at-risk [students] while also tracking that money to make sure it's going to programs that target those students," he said.

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