Report outlines deficiencies in education for Native American students

While Native American students in New Mexico are showing improvement in graduation rates, third-grade reading and math proficiency, they continue to perform well below their peers on state and national measures of achievement. As a result, a report released Monday makes several recommendations to help close the gap. They include asking the Legislature to reduce or eliminate the so-called Impact Aid credit from the state’s public education funding formula, freeing up the money for affected school districts to spend on evidence-based interventions. “If the Legislature were to remove the Impact Aid credit from the public education funding formula, Impact Aid districts could locally decide to spend the additional operational funding on added supports for facility needs, instruction, tribal collaboration activities, or tribal education departments,” the Legislative Finance Committee wrote in a progress report on the implementation of the Indian Education Act, which was passed in 2003. Federal Impact Aid compensates school districts and charter schools for the loss of property tax from tribal lands and other tax-exempt federal property within their boundaries.

Lawmaker wants high-ranking administration positions to address Hispanic education

An Albuquerque lawmaker wants the state to do more to help Hispanic students who are falling behind. 

Toward that end, Rep. Christine Trujillo, D-Albuquerque, plans to file a bill this week asking the state to appoint two assistant cabinet secretary positions for Hispanic education at both the K-12 and college levels. Among other goals, the new administrators would work on developing multicultural education materials and curriculum, plus hiring bilingual teachers to best meet the needs of Hispanic students. 

Trujillo, who asked the Legislative Education Study Committee to endorse her bill heading into the 2021 legislative session, said Monday it’s an update of a legislative proposal pitched by former Rep. Rick Miera,  the onetime head of the House Education Committee, some 10 years ago. 

She said her bill is directly tied to the Yazzie/Martinez v. State of New Mexico court case, in which a number of plaintiffs sued the state, contending it was not providing enough resources to offer a quality education for certain groups of students, including Hispanic children. 

A state district judge ruled in favor of the plaintiffs and ordered the state to find ways to meet the needs of those students. 

“This bill institutes what the judge wanted in terms of supporting children of color — in this case, Hispanic students,” Trujillo said Monday. 

Traditionally, Hispanic students have lagged behind their white counterparts. State data from 2019 shows just 30 percent of New Mexico’s Hispanic students were proficient in reading, compared to 48 percent of white students. In math, the differences are even more stark, with just 16 percent of Hispanic students reaching proficiency levels, compared to 34 percent of whites. 

Her bill includes a number of components to support Hispanic students in both public schools and colleges, including working out a five-year strategic plan to improve student enrollment and achievement at the college level. Rep. Derrick Lente, D-Sandia Pueblo and a member of the committee, said he supports Trujillo’s bill.

Education committee members decry public school spending plans

Lawmakers on the state House and Senate education committees on Wednesday decried the lack of funds proposed for some of their priorities for fiscal year 2021, indicating a deeper conflict is broiling over the largest share of the state’s budget as the Legislature and governor begin hashing out differences in their spending plans. During a joint hearing on public school funding proposed by both the Legislative Finance Committee and Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, education committee members said their input over the past year has been ignored. The initiatives they cited as underfinanced or omitted completely ranged from cybersecurity to teacher recruitment and retention efforts to providing feminine hygiene products for teen girls. Rep. Linda Trujillo, a Santa Fe Democrat and former school board member who serves on the interim Legislative Education Study Committee, said she didn’t think the voices of educators, school administrators and higher education officials were “entirely reflected” in the competing budget proposals. “I feel like we have been left in the lurch,” added Rep. Christine Trujillo, D-Albuquerque, a former teacher and chairwoman of the Legislative Education Study Committee.

Mimi Stewart elected Senate majority whip

State Sen. Mimi Stewart will replace fellow Albuquerque Democrat Michael Padilla as Senate majority whip, elevating her to a leadership position for the first time after 23 years in the New Mexico Legislature. Senate Democrats, meeting behind closed doors Monday, chose Stewart to replace Padilla, who Senate Democrats voted to remove from the post because of an old sexual harassment case that took place before he was elected to the Senate. Stewart, a retired educator, said she believes she was chosen because of hard work. “You know I’m a teacher by trade,” she said. “I told my students, `I have eyes in the back of my head.’

APS facing federal scrutiny for handling of disabled student

The federal government is investigating alleged discrimination by Albuquerque Public Schools against a student with a disability. The claim involves Michael Bruening, a 16-year-old autistic student who last saw an APS classroom in May 2015, according to his mother, Laura Gutierrez. The school district placed Bruening on homebound instruction, or education at home, but according to Gutierrez hasn’t done enough to support his educational development. Gutierrez, who said she does the bulk of instructing her son now, estimates he’s only attained education levels around the 6th or 7th grade. “I can’t teach him without him blowing up,” she said in a recent interview.