November 12, 2015

State can’t provide textbooks for private schools

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The State Supreme Court ruled on Thursday that a law that allows the state to provide textbooks to private schools is unconstitutional.

Photo Credit: tracktwentynine cc

tracktwentynine

Photo Credit: tracktwentynine cc

The unanimous decision (pdf) overturned a previous decision by the New Mexico Court of Appeals.

At issue was the Instructional Material Law (or IML), which allows private schools to have textbooks paid for from public funding, and how it related the Article XII, Section 3 of the New Mexico Constitution which bars any state money from going to private schools.

The IML, which was originally passed in 1967 and amended in 2011, states, “Instructional material shall be distributed to school districts, state institutions, private schools and adult basic education centers as agents for the benefit of students entitled to the free use of the instructional material.”

Article XII, Section 3 of the state constitution states, “no part of the proceeds arising from the sale or disposal of any lands granted to the state by congress, or any other funds appropriated, levied or collected for educational purposes, shall be used for the support of any sectarian, denominational or private school, college or university.”

The court’s decision cites this section and says the state constitution “prohibits the use of any parts of the proceeds from the sale or disposal of any land granted to the state by Congress or any other funds appropriated, levied, or collected for education purposes for sectarian or denominational schools. The framers of our Constitution chose to further restrict the use of public funds by prohibiting their use for the support of private schools.”

This decision goes on to say that private schools are in charge of what instructional materials they receive as their allocation from instructional material funds and that private schools benefit because the funds that would normally go towards the purchase of textbooks instead can go towards other purposes.

Because of this, the State Supreme Court found “the IML violates Article XII, Section 3 because it provides support to private schools.”

The initial complaint, filed by Cathy Moses and Paul F. Weinbaum, objected that some money would go towards private religious schools.

The Court of Appeals decision primarily looked at the religious aspect and so First Amendment cases in ruling the IML was constitutional. The Supreme Court took a wider look at the issue.

Justice Edward L. Chávez wrote the opinion. All four other members of the Supreme Court, including retired judge Richard Bosson, sitting by designation, concurred with the opinion.