New Mexico Public Schools Accused of Constitutional Violations

by Joseph C. Maya on Jul. 10, 2017

Other Education Civil & Human Rights  Constitutional Law 

Summary: A blog post about a case out of New Mexico in which a school was under investigation of violating student's constitutional rights.

If you have a question or concern about special education law, school administration, federal standards, or the overall rights of a student, please feel free to call the expert education law attorneys at Maya Murphy, P.C. in Westport today at (203) 221-3100.

Trial has begun in a case against the state of New Mexico, alleging that it has failed to meet its constitutional obligations to provide essential educational opportunities to all students. The case merges two lawsuits against the state on behalf of parents of public school students, with seven school districts also joining the lawsuit. The plaintiffs are claiming that the state’s education system is neglecting their responsibilities to adequately educate Native American students, low-income students, and those learning English as a second language. The lawsuit has threatened to take control of public school funding away from the Legislature and New Mexico Public Education Department, which would dismay the fiscally conservative lawmakers and governor.

Marisa Bono, a lead attorney for the plaintiffs stated, “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.” Meanwhile, education officials argue that spending is more than adequate, and that the state has added specialized programs to assist under-performing students and to hold teachers and school leaders more accountable for students’ academic progress.

The plaintiffs argue that New Mexico’s failure to equitably provide adequate funding and enrichment opportunities to all students violates the residents’ constitutional rights to a free, uniform, and sufficient public school system for all school-age children. According to the attorneys’ testing data, a majority of Native American students do not meet grade-level proficiency in reading and math.

Plaintiffs allege that public schools are underfunded by hundreds of millions of dollars annually, and that New Mexico’s school districts rely mostly on state funding for their educational programs. In a pre-trial ruling, Judge Singleton warned that plaintiffs will have to offer more evidence than abysmal test scores to prove that the state of New Mexico is violating constitutional rights to sufficient school funding.

In opening statements on Monday, Jeff Wechsler, an attorney for the state, stated, “”The evidence will show that additional spending will have virtually no effect on student test scores…The defendants cannot show that spending more will impact them in any meaningful way.” According to Wechsler, the high levels of poverty across New Mexico are the major cause of poor results of school testing, not inadequate school funding.

Santa Fe Public Schools Superintendent Veronica Garcia testified that graduating students have demonstrated extremely low levels of proficiency in math and reading, and that many schools are not included in the new programs that expand pre-school and lengthen the school day and school year. According to Garcia, the overall level of state funding for public schools is to blame, as well as the limited funds for programs geared toward students from low-income households where English is not the primary language.

The trial is somewhat of an urgent matter because New Mexico is currently dealing with a state budget crisis, resulting from weakened local economy and decreased income from oil and natural gas. In response, spending on school programs was trimmed by 1.5 percent, and additional restrictions were added to district cash balances and funding for transportation and instructional materials. These cuts were made to close a budget deficit for the year ending June 30.

Other states are dealing with similar battles over public school funding and state budget priorities. For instance, Oklahoma, also an energy-dependent state, has made budget cuts that have caused almost 100 school districts to move to a four-day school week. Meanwhile, Washington state legislators are struggling to abide by a 2012 Supreme Court order mandating more funding for basic education. Arizona was sued by a group of school districts and education associations in May, claiming that they were deprived of billions of dollars in required infrastructure spending over the past ten years.

If you believe that your child’s constitutional rights to education have been violated, contact the experienced education law attorneys today at 203-221-3100, or by email at JMaya@mayalaw.com. We have the experience and knowledge your child needs at this critical juncture. We serve clients in both New York and Connecticut including New Canaan, Bridgeport, White Plains, and Darien.

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