Indigenous leader denounces NM’s response to education lawsuit ”Albuquerque Journal

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In this 2018 photo, former Cochiti Governor Pueblo Regis Pecos participates in a Santa Fe Entrada proclamation signing ceremony in the courtyard of the Santa Fe Community Convention Center. (Eddie Moore / Albuquerque Journal)

SANTA FE – Former Cochiti Pueblo Governor Regis Pecos has criticized New Mexico’s efforts to improve the education of Native American students in response to a landmark court ruling, describing a “fragmented” funding process for the tribal education that will hamper the effectiveness of increased state spending.

In a presentation to lawmakers, Pecos – who has a long history in state and tribal governments – also highlighted a recent explosion in turnover of key administrators in the public education department and the shortage of teachers and chiefs. Native American settlement of the state.

The heated presentation came as members of the powerful Legislative Finance Committee sought an update on the state’s response to a 2018 court ruling that found New Mexico violated the rights of some students – including Native Americans – by not providing sufficient education.

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Lawmakers have responded to the decision by increasing teachers’ salaries in recent years, funding an extended school year, and expanding early childhood education programs that prepare children for kindergarten. The state also revised a budget formula and made other changes intended to provide more funding to schools that serve at-risk and low-income students.

But Pecos, a member of the Cochiti Tribal Council, questioned whether the spending was effective.

“There is no evidence that the dollars received by school districts,” said Pecos, “are reaching Aboriginal students and meeting their needs.”

The state, he added, has not passed legislation for a “tribal remedies framework” – a plan that includes transforming tribal libraries into community education centers and investing in preserving them. mother tongues, among other actions. It has been approved by the rulers of the 23 nations, tribes and pueblos in the state.

Likewise, Pecos said, much of the public funding offered to tribes is made available through grants that may not continue, interfering with efforts to create new sustainable education programs.

“This is a fragmented process,” he said.

Public Education Secretary Ryan Stewart, who was appointed a year after the 2018 court ruling, told lawmakers his agency has stepped up oversight of how school districts spend their funding on at-risk students .

The state also requires equity councils, he said, in every district and charter school – and within the public education department itself – to help promote equal education for every group. demographic.

Broader strategies to encourage a more diverse teaching workforce, support Indigenous languages ​​and extend student learning time are also underway, said Stewart.

“We had a change of mind at the Department of Public Education,” he said.

Lawmakers reacted strongly to the testimony of Pecos, Stewart and others.

Representative Derrick Lente, D-Sandia Pueblo, delivered some of his remarks in Tewa – a Pueblo language – and expressed disappointment that the Tribal Remedy Framework had not been adopted by the state.

Native American children, he said, have been “left to rot because of their origin” for many years.

“How long do our children have to fail for us to be successful?” Lente asked.

Rep. Javier Martinez, D-Albuquerque, described Pecos’ presentation as a call to action and said he had “started to wonder if more money is really needed beyond what we have invested “.

“I think we are losing momentum,” Martinez said of the response to the court ruling. “I would hate to be back here in 20 years talking about how nothing has changed.”

A judge in the state’s 1st Judicial District ruled in 2018 that New Mexico violated the rights of some students – including Native Americans, English learners, and those from low-income families – by failing to offer not adequate education.

There is no clear statistical standard that would allow the state to evade trial, a legislative analyst told lawmakers, but the ruling noted dismal proficiency rates for students and skill gaps between students. demographic groups.

In 2019, for example, only 30% of third-graders were proficient in reading.

The lawsuit in question is known as the Martinez and Yazzie case, after the names of the families involved in two lawsuits brought in 2014 and subsequently consolidated.

“Where will you be in six months?” “

Some lawmakers on Friday broached the idea of ​​making broader changes to the governance of New Mexico’s education system – in which the governor appoints a secretary of public education while elected school boards statewide oversee districts and individual superintendents.

Among the ideas discussed were the establishment of a statewide elected chief of education or a hybrid system of selecting an education secretary similar to judicial appointments. Judges are appointed by the governor after selection of candidates by a committee, and they also stand for election.

Some lawmakers have asked Stewart about turnover within his department among high-level executives, such as assistant cabinet secretaries.

Representative Patricia Lundstrom, Democrat of Gallup and president of the LFC, asked Stewart if he too was planning to leave.

“Where will you be in six months?” ” she asked.

“I think you’re stuck with me a bit longer if that’s what you ask for,” Stewart replied.

Stewart, the first African-American to hold the most senior position in education in New Mexico, was appointed in August 2019 following the abrupt dismissal of his predecessor, Karen Trujillo.

He is a former professor of algebra and science who has served in leadership positions for the Philadelphia School District and a national nonprofit education group.

Pecos is leaving his post

Pecos announced at the meeting that he had stepped down as senior adviser to House Majority Leader Sheryl Williams Stapleton, D-Albuquerque.

He said he left to protest “what’s going on with” the Legislative Education Review Committee, where Director of Personnel Rachel Gudgel has been accused of making derogatory remarks about Native Americans.

A committee vote to fire Gudgel this week fell to a 5-5 tie.

Earlier this summer, Gudgel apologized for her “isolated and insensitive comments” but defended her background as a legislative analyst, saying she worked for the success of all students, especially Native American students. , throughout his career.

What she is accused of saying and whether the allegations were founded are unclear. Legislative staff rejected a request to register the Journal for a report on the investigation.


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