In less than two weeks’ time, New Mexico’s Public Education Department has been sued by two different groups alleging the state’s inadequate expenditures for public schools violate the State Constitution of New Mexico. Article XII, Section 1 of the New Mexico State Constitution reads, “A uniform system of free public schools sufficient for the education of, and open to, all the children of school age in the state shall be established and maintained.” Both suits emphasize the phrase “sufficient for education” as the basis for claiming that funding does not meet constitutionally-warranted levels.
First, a group of parents of public school students filed a case claiming that schools in the Albuquerque and Gallup-McKinley school districts are insufficiently funded. The parents group, through its lawsuit filed by the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty, also contend that the allocation of those funds fails to target enough funds to help students burdened by poverty and/or lack of fluency in English.
Then on April 1, 2014 the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund filed a similar lawsuit against the Public School Department on behalf of parents of about three dozen students in the Albuquerque, Gadsden, Las Cruces, Magdalena, Santa Fe, Zuni and Espanola school districts. In addition to alleging insufficient funding levels for these districts, the civil action seeks an injunction stopping educational initiatives implemented by Governor Susanna Martinez.
While the spokesman for the department refused to comment on either lawsuit, he did note that the Governor has signed legislation increasing school spending since taking office in 2011. Also he suggested increasing graduation rates, particularly among Native American students, belie the notion that the State which raises and allocates all of the funding for public education institutions in New Mexico, has fallen short of its constitutional obligations.
Both cases should revolve around the issue of how the constitutional provision should be interpreted. What does “sufficient for education” actually mean? Each case will also challenge the litigants to present relevant data and information to support their claims. This begs the question of what kind of information will assist a court in determining whether the State has succeeded at providing an ongoing “uniform system of free public schools sufficient for the education of, and open to, all the children of school age in the state.”
Mr. Giddens and the other attorneys at Giddens & Gatton Law, P.C. have experience advising New Mexico businesses and property owners regarding local, state and federal laws affecting businesses and property owners. Giddens & Gatton Law, P.C. is located at 10400 Academy Road N.E., Suite 350 in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Call the office at (505) 633-6298 to set up an appointment or visit the firm’s website at giddenslaw.com for more information.