Civil Rights Group Expands Suit against State Concerning Education

A couple of months ago it was reported on this blog that two different groups had sued New Mexico’s Public Education Department for violations of 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.”  Those suits addressed issues of students burdened by poverty and/or lack of fluency in English and specifically, in the suit filed by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, insufficient funding in the district composed of schools in  the Albuquerque, Gadsden, Las Cruces, Magdalena, Santa Fe, Zuni and Espanola school districts.

Now the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund has amended its suit to include a claim thatNew Mexico also fails to provide a sufficient education to students with disabilities.  By doing so, the state district court – as well as any appellate court which later reviews the potential trial court decision – will wrestle with the issue of the scope of the above-cited constitutional provision. Considering about 14 percent, or 42,000 students in the state’s educational system, have some form of disabilities, the eventual outcome could be quite significant.

Ironically, in California this past week, a court ruled that teacher tenure laws deprived students of their right to an education under the State Constitution and violated their civil rights.  That case addressed the laws which constructed that state’s tenure system and found that the tenure system discriminated against students who may have incompetent teachers as a result of the protections afforded by their tenure system. By contrast, the suits in New Mexico challenge the levels of funding as inadequate to meet the New Mexico State Constitution’s mandates.

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