A nine-week court case resulting from a lawsuit filed by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEEF) and the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty concluded on Friday, August 4. The outcome of this case has the potential to transform the educational pathways of some of the most at-risk students in the state.
The plaintiffs claim that ELL students, Native American students, and low-income students are not receiving the educational opportunities guaranteed in the NM state constitution. They recommend that up to $600 million additional funds be allocated to educating these at-risk students, especially at the K-3 level.
In response, the state argued that funding for pre-K-3 has risen over the past few years, that some school districts need to spend funds more efficiently, and that other states in the Southwest, such as Utah, spend less per student with better results. However, Utah has far fewer ELL and low-income students compared to NM. Additionally, spending on NM education is below pre-2007 levels. The former Public Education Department (PED) Secretary, Hannah Skandera, advocated for a color-blind policy that would focus on all students.
New Mexico has been ranked 49th or 50th in educational outcomes since 2012 by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, and 43% of NM college students needed remedial classes in 2015, according to the PED. The state has been undergoing severe budget troubles in part because of the struggling oil and natural gas industry.
Several legislators supporting the plaintiffs argued that increasing the corporate tax rate and the personal tax rate on top earners could help generate funds for additional education dollars.
A decision is expected in late fall or winter. It is likely that the losing side would appeal, which could drag on for several years.