In a resolute response to the State of the State address, where the Governor emphasized the paramount importance of achieving national leadership in education, lawmakers are fervently focusing on an ambitious educational agenda during this legislative session. At the forefront is House Bill 39, a groundbreaking proposal aimed at bolstering bilingual education in alignment with the Yazzie/Martinez decision handed down five years ago.
The Yazzie/Martinez decision, a landmark ruling, vowed to ensure equitable education for various at-risk student groups, with a specific emphasis on bilingual students. House Bill 39 now seeks to translate this commitment into action by earmarking additional funding for higher education, tribal colleges, and the Public Education Department.
The primary objectives of the bill include enhancing higher education programs by actively recruiting students pursuing bilingual education degrees and fostering the development of culturally responsive instruction. Democratic Representative and educator Yanira Gurrola, one of the bill’s sponsors, expressed concern over the prevailing patchwork approach to implementing the court’s decision.
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Gurrola stressed the critical need for sustained investment in higher education programs, citing the current struggle for survival due to inadequate funding. “Right now, we have a shortage of everything. And these programs at the universities are struggling to survive. For these programs to survive, a close to $30 million investment in the budget is required, and it’s not happening. They are surviving with cents on that money,” remarked Gurrola.
The proposed bill, if enacted, aims to bridge this funding gap and significantly boost professional capacity in bilingual education. By allocating resources to higher education institutions, tribal colleges, and the Public Education Department, House Bill 39 envisions a holistic approach to addressing the educational needs of bilingual students.
Melissa Candelaria, a member of the Yazzie counsel and education director at the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty, lauded House Bill 39 as a crucial opportunity and the next logical step in ensuring compliance with the mandates of the Yazzie/Martinez ruling. She emphasized the strides made in the past five years since the court’s decision, citing increased funding for public schools. However, Candelaria sees the passage of HB 39 as the essential next phase, targeting funds for culturally relevant teacher recruitment, workforce and curriculum development, and support services.
“HB 39 is an important opportunity… over the last 5 years since the court ruled the State of NM is violating students’ rights to a sufficient education, the Legislature has increased funding for public schools. The next step in this legislative session is for lawmakers to pass HB 39 to target funding for culturally relevant teacher recruitment, workforce and curriculum development, and support services,” noted Candelaria.
The fate of House Bill 39 now rests with the House Education Committee. If it successfully navigates this phase, the bill will move on to the House Appropriations and Finance Committee, marking a significant milestone in the legislative process.
As New Mexico legislators grapple with the multifaceted challenges facing the education system, House Bill 39 stands as a beacon of hope, signaling a dedicated effort to fulfill the promises made in the Yazzie/Martinez decision. The bill’s proponents argue that by strategically investing in higher education, the state can pave the way for a more equitable and culturally responsive educational landscape, setting an example for the nation to follow. The eyes of educators, advocates, and concerned citizens are now fixed on the legislative journey of HB 39, awaiting its potential transformation into a catalyst for positive change in New Mexico’s educational system.