NM schools need more support and resources

by Victoria Tafoya published in the Albuquerque Journal

The debate over K-12 education in New Mexico is filled with words like “sufficient” and “adequate,” as if we’re facing a vocabulary test. It’s true that all of our students have a right to a sufficient education under our state Constitution. It’s also no surprise a judge ruled K-12 public education is currently inadequate in response to the Yazzie/Martinez lawsuit that shined a light on the shortcomings of the system.

But you don’t need to be a legal expert to know that if we were supporting our schools, our teachers and students would have the resources they need to be successful. That is not the case in New Mexico today.

As the Interim Legislative Education Study Committee meets this week to consider program investments for next session, it must not shy away from the fact many of our schools do not have the basics.

The hard reality is 70% of New Mexico students are not reading or doing math at grade level. The inexcusable truth is education and child welfare experts know what works to make schools successful, but resources have not been made available to fully implement and fund those programs. Despite a bump in education funding this year, it is not nearly enough to support New Mexico’s children, especially English language learners and students from high poverty communities.

Two-thirds of New Mexico students are Hispanic or Native American, and many speak a language other than English at home. Adopting a more culturally relevant approach to teaching has been shown to be a win-win for all students. Numerous studies have found a multicultural curriculum benefits both non-English speaking and English-speaking students.

Transform Education NM, a coalition led by educators, families, tribal leaders and child welfare experts, is pursuing a comprehensive platform to provide multicultural and multilingual learning across all classrooms, ensure children have access to quality Pre-K, relevant curriculum, enrichment and instructional materials and social services as well as investing in our educators with higher teacher pay and professional development in strategies and techniques to most effectively teach culturally and linguistically diverse learners.

The Legislature took a first step to fix the education system this year by increasing teacher salaries. The coalition also secured an important victory to ensure much needed professional development opportunities for educators on culturally and linguistically responsive education is made available.

However, there is still a lot more work to do. The Legislature did not pass critical bills, including legislation to establish universal Pre-K, create a multicultural framework in our schools, address the unique needs of English language learners, Native American students and children from low-income families, or provide the funding, wrap-around services and instruction students need to be ready for college and careers.

There is much more to be done to transform our public school system. It will require an ongoing commitment across communities and school districts, the state administration and Legislature and the courts to live up to our responsibility to the next generation.

A popular aphorism says, “If you can see it, you can be it.” We see a state that:

• Provides preschool to all 4-year-olds;

• Provides extended learning opportunities to all children who need them;

• Ensures social services, counseling, health care and literacy specialists are available to all students who need them;

• Invests enough in our educators to attract and retain new teachers and expand their qualifications;

• Covers culturally and linguistically appropriate instruction materials for the classroom;

• Provides enough buses so all students have the opportunity to participate in after school and summer programs; and

• Most importantly, ensures teaching is tailored to the unique cultural and linguistic assets of our students.

We call on our state’s elected leadership to make that vision a new reality for New Mexico.