First Judicial District Court Judge Matthew Wilson last week denied the State of New Mexico’s motion to dismiss the Yazzie/Martinez case. In that major 2018 adequacy ruling, the late Judge Sarah Singleton had issued an order that gave the state until April 15, 2019, to take “immediate steps to ensure that New Mexico schools have the resources necessary to give at-risk students the opportunity to obtain a uniform and sufficient education that prepares them for college and career.”
In April 2019, New Mexico’s governor and legislature agreed on a package of reforms to increase teacher salaries, extend instructional time at public schools and boost spending on low-income students. However, plaintiffs claimed that these measures were insufficient to remedy the problems outlined in the court decision. Therefore, last fall they filed compliance motions alleging that school districts lack sufficient funds to make the extensive programmatic changes required by the Court’s order to benefit at risk students, Native American students, students with disabilities, and English language learners because the lion’s share of the funds appropriated by the legislature had been used to increase salaries of existing teachers. They also claimed that the State has no plan in effect for complying with the Order.
Judge Wilson, in his first decision since being assigned to the case, stated that the state, by its own admission, is not fulfilling its constitutional duty to provide a sufficient education to all students:
The state cannot be deemed to have complied with this court’s order until it shows that the necessary programs and reforms are being provided to all at risk students to ensure that they have the opportunity to be college and career ready. There is a lack of evidence in this case that the defendants have substantially satisfied this court’s express orders regarding all at risk students. The court’s injunction requires comprehensive educational reform that demonstrates substantial improvement of student outcomes so that students are actually college and career ready.
The judge also stated that “the court will maintain jurisdiction in this case until defendants have actually overhauled the system and complied with the constitutional requirements.”
Governor Lujan Grisham, a Democrat, had supported the lawsuit during her gubernatorial campaign and dropped an appeal of the case that was mounted by her Republican predecessor’s administration when she took office. Her motion seeking to dismiss the case came later. In asking the judge to dismiss the case, the governor indicated that she was trying to maintain the independence of the Public Education Department in complying with the original court order.
Judge Wilson also granted the Martinez lawyers’ motion to conduct discovery in order to determine what New Mexico has done since the 2018 ruling. He denied, however, the Yazzie plaintiffs’ request that the state develop a specific compliance plan, but noted that he might consider such an order in the future.