July 9, 2019
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Last year, New Mexico District Judge Sarah Singleton issued a significant ruling that found the state was not meeting its constitutional obligation to provide an adequate education to all New Mexico students, particularly Native Americans, English-language learners and those with disabilities. Martinez v. State of New Mexico. Among other things, her decision found that pre-school, after-school and summer school programs have been shown to provide proper supports for at risk students; and that a 10% extra weighting for “at risk” student in the funding formula is not sufficient.

            Basing her order on the order issued by the New York Court of Appeals in CFE v. State of New York, the judge required the state to enact by April, 2019, “reforms to the current system of financing public education and managing schools [that] address the shortcomings of the current system by ensuring, as a part of that process, that every public school in New Mexico would have the resources necessary for providing the opportunity for a sufficient education for all at-risk students. The new scheme should include a system of accountability to measure whether the programs and services actually provide the opportunity for a sound basic education and to assure that the local districts are spending the funds provided in a way that efficiently and effectively meets the needs of at-risk students.”

            The newly-elected democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham decided earlier this year not to appeal the ruling, but she has said her administration will litigate aggressively in an attempt to avoid long-term court oversight of the state’s public schools.

            Responding to the court order, in April 2019, the governor and the legislature agreed on a package of reforms that aimed, among other things, to increase teacher salaries by 6%, extend instructional time and raise the at-risk weighting to 18%. According to plaintiffs’ attorneys, however, the $113 million budget increase the legislature adopted to fund these reforms is grossly inadequate; it essentially covers the mandatory 6% salary increases, but virtually nothing else.

            Meanwhile, Judge Singleton passed away earlier this summer, and the case has been re-assigned to Chief District Judge Matthew Wilson. Plaintiffs have stated that they intend shortly to file a motion soon to ask the new judge to order the state to take additional compliance action.

            CORRECTION:The 2019 Supplement to Michael Rebell’s book, Courts and Kids: Pursuing Educational Equity Through the State Courts that was sent out earlier this month did not include the Martinez case in the recent final plaintiff victory category. That omission slightly changed the calculation of plaintiff/defendant victories for the decade from 2009 to 2019. A corrected copy of the 2019 Supplement is available here.

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