Late education plan frustrates Indigenous leaders in New Mexico | New Mexico News

By CEDAR ATTANASIO, Associated Press / Report for America

SANTA FE, NM (AP) – New Mexico’s plan to meet the needs of underserved Indigenous students has not been shared with tribal leaders or the public despite promises made by state officials that they would do it last year.

Tribal chiefs expected to be asked for comment on a project last October, ahead of the plan’s public release on December 1, which did not happen.

“As far as the promises go, and this is a serious thing, that should have been followed by now,” said Mark Mitchell, recently appointed president of the All Pueblo Council of Governors, which represents 20 Native American tribes in New Mexico and the United States. Texas.

The New Mexico Department of Public Education, known as PED, hired former Santa Fe Public Schools Superintendent Veronica García to draft the plan.

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García said she submitted a project in early October and understood at the time that state education officials would refine and format it. But she never heard from them.

“I don’t know what happened after that. That would be, I think, a good question for PED or the governor’s office, ”she said.

The education department declined to comment on Tuesday as to why it failed to meet its self-imposed goal of releasing a draft for public comment by December 31.

In recent months, the agency has told lawmakers it has unfilled vacancies and other staffing issues and has requested additional staff specifically to handle the lawsuit.

Lujan Grisham spokeswoman Nora Meyers Sackett said the administration would release the plan “in the near future”. She declined to comment on the governor’s response to the October letter from All Pueblo’s Board of Governors requesting a meeting to discuss the plan.

But Sackett added, “Tribal consultation and meaningful government-to-government relationships have been a guiding principle of this administration since the governor took office, and that has not changed. “

Mitchell said the tribes never received a response to their letter.

The plan aims to respond to a 2018 court ruling that found Native American, low-income, disabled, and English-learning students were not receiving sufficient education, making up about 70% of the K-12 population. state year. Lujan Grisham, a Democrat, tried unsuccessfully to overturn the decision.

Lujan Grisham’s administration has increased funding for public education and is proposing salary increases for teachers and more money for the Indian Education Act during the legislative session, which begins this month.

Indigenous education advocates have hailed Lujan Grisham’s recent decision to increase Native American studies into the social studies curriculum.

But three years after Lujan Grisham’s first term in office, his administration has yet to release a comprehensive plan to address the education failures exposed by the trial.

“I hope it doesn’t come out a few days before the session and we’re supposed to pass it,” said State Representative Derrick Lente, a Democrat from Sandia Pueblo, who said Steinhaus told him the December 20 that the plan was still pending. endorsement by Lujan Grisham.

The education plan would set out budget priorities, but advocates said it should also determine which programs are effective and give tribes more power in their discretion over how to spend public education money.

Without a comprehensive national plan to tackle inequalities in tribal education, Lujan Grisham’s education funding increases represent “a very piecemeal approach, unmeasurable in terms of how we can gauge whether we are actually making progress.” Said former Cochiti Pueblo governor Regis Pecos, who attended the meeting with Steinhaus and confirmed Lente’s account.

Education Department spokeswoman Judy Robinson declined to comment on the meeting Steinhaus attended.

Robinson defended the formation of the draft, saying tribal governments were asked to comment on a very early form of it in August and that the revisions were part of an “ongoing process.”

This first draft, obtained by the Associated Press, contained no specific or measurable action items and was largely a list of goals to improve the education of students, including Native Americans.

“We invited our tribal communities to comment at this time or wait for a later version to be released for review. Many preferred to wait for the revised draft, which has yet to be released, ”said Robinson.

Despite the court ruling that many New Mexico students were not receiving the public education they deserved, litigation related to the case has dragged on since 2018.

State officials will be filed about their efforts to comply with the lawsuit in the coming months, according to plaintiff’s attorney Preston Sanchez. The total cost of the lawsuit to taxpayers is expected to approach $ 8 million this year since it was filed in 2014.

Part of the litigation was about forcing the state to come up with a plan. Sanchez has said he would prefer the Lujan Grisham administration to do it voluntarily instead of demanding one through other legal actions.

Tribal chiefs approved their own blueprint in 2020, which advocates like Pecos see as a good starting point for negotiations.

Attanasio is a member of the Associated Press / Report for America Statehouse News Initiative corps. Report for America is a national, nonprofit service program that places reporters in local newsrooms to cover undercover issues. Follow Attanasio on Twitter.

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