Hobbs News Sun

State to appeal ruling on adequacy of school funding

State to appeal ruling on adequacy of school funding

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — A judge’s ruling won’t end the legal fight over whether New Mexico’s funding for public schools is adequate.

Public Education Department officials said late Monday the state will appeal state District Judge Sarah Singleton’s ruling Friday that New Mexico must provide funding to public schools to ensure at-risk students receive a sufficient education.

Advocacy groups and school districts sued in 2014, accusing the state of failing to meeting constitutional obligations to provide a sufficient education for all students.

The case highlighted the plight of English-language learners, Native American youth and students from low-income families.

Singleton’s ruling gave the state 60 days to create a plan and set an April 15 deadline for ensuring that schools are adequately funded to provide at-risk students a sufficient education.

Singleton’s ruling on a lawsuit filed in 2014 on behalf of students, parents and school districts didn’t specify how lawmakers and other state officials should address the issue, but the judge gave the defendants until April 15 to act to ensure that schools have enough funding to properly prepare students for college and work.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs hailed the ruling.

“It means that the courts of New Mexico have ruled for the first time ever that the constitution provides for children to have a fundamental right to education,” Martin Estrada, a lawyer for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, told the Santa Fe New Mexican .

State Sen. Mimi Stewart, an Albuquerque Democrat and chairwoman of the Legislative Education Study Committee, said the judge “wasn’t prescriptive” in what has to happen next, but rather left it to lawmakers and the governor to develop a plan.

But the solution will have to address teacher salaries and resources for Native American youth, said Stewart, who testified on behalf of the plaintiffs.

“I’m thankful for this judge telling us to get our acts together,” Stewart told the Albuquerque Journal .

Lawyers for the state have argued that New Mexico does all it can to support public education and that money does not matter as much as how that money is spent by individual school districts.

Singleton oversaw an eight-week trial in the case in mid-2017.

She wrote that the defendants “violated the rights of at-risk students by failing to provide them with a uniform statewide system of free public schools sufficient for their education.”

She also said the Public Education Department failed to meet its requirement to “assure that the money that is provided has been spent so as to most efficiently achieve the needs of providing at-risk students with the programs and services needed for them to obtain an adequate education.”

Legally, Singleton wrote, “lack of funds is not a defense to providing constitutional rights.”

Singleton said trial evidence proved that most at-risk students “finish each school year without the basic literacy and math skills needed to pursue post-secondary education or a career. Indeed, overall New Mexico children rank at the very bottom in the country for educational achievement.”