The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund and the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty have initiated a lawsuit against the state of New Mexico, claiming that budget cuts and underfunding are preventing Native American students, ELL learners, and low-income students from receiving the necessary educational opportunities guaranteed by the state constitution. One school superintendent noted that because of budget cuts, his district had to close two elementary schools, increase class sizes, and eliminate summer school, all changes that hurt students mentioned in the suit (“Major Education Lawsuit Heads to Trial,” 2017). Attorneys representing the plaintiffs introduced data to show unacceptably low scores in math and reading for Native American students.
According to a lawyer for the plaintiffs, “These failings are costing students the opportunity to succeed. . . . The state is pumping hundreds of thousands of students into the state economy who are wholly unprepared for college or career” (“New Mexico Lawsuit Puts State Education System on Trial,” 2017).
While the suit asserts that New Mexico’s schools need hundreds of millions of dollars more each year to provide essential educational opportunities to students, the state’s lawyers argue that spending more money on education will not improve students’ test scores, as poverty is the primary problem. Moreover, state education officials claim that special programs are being funded to help underachieving students and that teacher accountability initiatives are underway as well.
The lawsuit, which will hopefully be settled in nine weeks, comes at a time when the state is experiencing serious budget difficulty in part due to the decline in income from the oil and natural gas industry.