Thursday, April 3, 2014

MALDEF Sues New Mexico, Claiming Denial of Right to Education by Molly Hunter, Education Law Center

The Education Law Center shared the following story by Molly Hunter:

On April 1, 2014, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF) filed a lawsuit, Louise Martinez v State of New Mexico, seeking to establish education as a fundamental right and to ensure that New Mexico's at-risk children are provided a sufficient education as required under the New Mexico Constitution.

"Every state has an obligation to prepare all of its students to succeed in the future, and New Mexico is failing in this duty with respect to far too many of its children and future leaders," said Thomas A. Saenz, MALDEF President and General Counsel.  "The courts must act to bring justice and equity to New Mexico's education system."

The parent plaintiffs and other supporting organizations challenge the State's denial of their children's constitutional right to access the educational opportunities they need to succeed in the classroom.  The complaint asserts that this right has been violated through a series of State-created arbitrary obstacles, including unfair and non-transparent school accountability grading and teacher evaluation systems that drive quality teachers and leaders from schools disproportionately enrolling English Learner (EL) and low-income students. 

Plaintiffs also complain of the arbitrary and inadequate funding for EL and economically disadvantaged students, as well as the State's failure to expand pre-kindergarten programs to ensure all at-risk students can access those programs. Plaintiffs further argue that the State's failure to support and implement fully the Indian Education Act, the Hispanic Education Act, and the Bilingual Multicultural Education Act deprive students of the cultural programs that are essential to a sufficient education as required under the New Mexico Constitution.

"Every year that passes, is another year of lost opportunity for New Mexican school children," stated MALDEF lead counsel David Hinojosa.  "It's time for the courts to step in and put an end to this egregious pattern of political pandering and neglect that only harms the children."

MALDEF began its investigation a couple of years ago following its discussions concerning the chronic achievement gaps with several local and state community groups, including the Latino Education Task Force, as well as local leaders and parents in New Mexico.  These gaps included 20-plus percentage points on the State's standardized tests, with less than one-half of the minority and at-risk students earning "proficient" ratings on their tests.  Following the substantial investigation, and another failed legislative session; the parents and children asked MALDEF to sue.  

Plaintiff parent Louise Martinezadded, "I went to the same school my daughter attends, and nothing has changed. The school is rated F, the classrooms are overcrowded, the kids need support, and violence is high. My children and all the children in New Mexico deserve better. Tomorrow is too late, we need to change New Mexico's education system now."

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