Amber Wallin replaces James Jimenez to lead New Mexico Voices for Children

Amber Wallin has replaced James Jimenez as Executive Director of New Mexico Voices for Children, a nonprofit children’s advocacy and research organization. NMVC announced the change this week. Jimenez retired at the first of the year but will continue to serve as executive director for New Mexico Pediatric Society, a role he acquired when the two organizations formed an alliance in 2017. He will also direct the NMVC Action Fund. Wallin, who began working for NMVC on tax policy issues about ten years ago, said that she intends to continue the work that is the core mission of the organization – advocating for policy that creates opportunities for children and families.

The great disconnect

On May 18, a judge overseeing the historic Yazzie-Martinez case ordered the New Mexico Public Education Department to take stock of the massive digital divide in the state and finally identify the roughly 76,000 students who lacked Internet connections they desperately needed for school. 

One of PED’s responses was to create a Google survey for students and staff to fill out online, an action that left advocates and school leaders mystified. “It doesn’t make sense for a lot of different reasons — most of all because people who don’t have internet aren’t going to fill out an online survey,” pointed out Michael Noll, community schools coordinator at Peñasco Independent School District, whose students are among the plaintiffs in the suit. The survey is just the latest back-and-forth in a seemingly endless seven-year legal battle over inequitable education in New Mexico, where vulnerable students receive such an inadequate education that they’re in danger of being irreparably harmed, the First Judicial District Court found in 2108. The court has retained jurisdiction over the Yazzie-Martinez case ever since, to make sure the state implements a litany of comprehensive, mandated reforms. 

Three years later, the state has barely made any progress, critics argue. They say the online survey reflected a broad lack of foresight and basic understanding, especially in light of the state’s long-standing problems with internet access, which vastly undercut students’ ability to learn after the pandemic struck and classes went online.

Yazzie-Martinez plaintiffs want court to order state to address remote learning issues

The plaintiffs in a lawsuit over educational resources in New Mexico filed a request with the First Judicial District Court on Wednesday to order the state to provide computers and high-speed internet access to thousands of at risk students who lack tools for remote learning during the COVID-19 pandemic. An estimated 23 percent of the New Mexico population lacks broadband internet service, according to the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty (NMCLP). The nonprofit, which is providing legal counsel to the plaintiffs of the Yazzie-Martinez lawsuit, estimated that 80 percent of Native Americans living on tribal lands do not have internet services at all. Florena Valencia, of the San Felipe Pueblo, and her three daughters are one Native American family who lack internet at home. Valencia sat with her three daughters in her hot car in the warmer months while her children tried to learn remotely, she said.

Superintendents: Proposed cuts to education will worsen racial and economic inequity

Proposed education budget cuts could worsen racial and economic inequities in the state, according to some school superintendents. Veronica Garcia, the superintendent of Santa Fe Public Schools, said that if the Legislative Finance Committee’s proposed budget cuts in education are passed, she expects to be looking at a $10.3 million hole in her district’s budget. She is starting with a $7 million deficit in her school budget and if the LFC’s proposed cuts go through, she expects to see another $3.3 million loss. Like the state, Garcia has to balance her budget annually. She says that situation will leave her with no choice but to make cuts that will enlarge classroom size, reduce programming and shrink ancillary roles such as social workers, librarians, nurse aides and nurses.

Women’s groups gather on Indigenous women’s issues

Angel Charley, acting co-executive director of the Coalition to Stop Violence Against Native American Women, gave a siren call for Indigenous issues Sunday during a meeting of women’s groups. Charley was the keynote speaker for the New Mexico American Association of University Women Chapter (AAUW), the League of Women Voters and the National Organization for Women over the weekend in Santa Fe in advance of the organizations’ lobbying efforts Monday at the Roundhouse rotunda. Pamelya Herndon, chair of the Public Policy Committee for AAUW, said she chose Charley as speaker because she had never seen a collaboration between the Indigenous group and the AAUW and she thought now was a good time to start one. “We should be working together,” Herndon said. “This is how to move into the Year of the Woman.”

The year 2020 marks the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th amendment, which granted women the right to vote.

Policymakers say education overhaul will take years

As Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham enters the second year of an education overhaul she promised on the campaign trail — and a state judge mandated months before she took office — she and other policymakers say the changes will come over decades, not within legislative sessions. They point to persistent problems, such as low rates of student proficiency in math and reading and high numbers of high school dropouts, and say solutions will require years of steadily increasing investments in building an education workforce that suffers from a severe shortage. They say initiating programs to aid the state’s most vulnerable kids and extending classroom time — both expensive propositions — are a start, but add the effort requires New Mexico to rethink how it views education funding. “People say we just throw money at it, but we haven’t ever tried throwing money at it,” said state Sen. Mimi Stewart, an Albuquerque Democrat who serves on the Senate Education Committee. “We’ve done nothing but underfund for years.

New Yazzie court filings seek more action on education

The state didn’t spend enough, and it still doesn’t have a plan. That, in essence, is what attorneys in the state’s landmark Martinez/Yazzie education lawsuit argue in a legal motion that seeks concrete steps to guarantee Native Americans, English learners, disabled and low-income students a sufficient education. 

Wilhelmina Yazzie, lead plaintiff in the case, has two high schoolers in the Gallup McKinley district. She said even after the state pumped nearly half a billion into the public schools, her sons aren’t seeing it in the classroom. There are no new textbooks or computers, teachers are still providing resources out of pocket and classes that reflects their Navajo culture are still lacking. “I know a lot of our teachers, they do want to help our children.