Throughout committee meetings on both the House and Senate chambers, one can hear a reoccurring phrase: “How will this impact the Yazzie/Martinez ruling?”. This question is asked anytime a bill is introduced that has an impact on school budgets. But very little is actually mentioned about what the “Yazzie vs. the State of New Mexico” case is or how it impacts the state. We put a brief history on the case together to help provide some context as to why this ruling has taken a front seat during the 54th Legislature.

Background and History

Wilhelmina Yazzie lives in Gallup on the edge of the Navajo Nation and her son, Xavier, attends a Gallup-McKinley school. She filed a complaint to administrators that the school lacked funding, teachers, tutors, and computers. Xavier is a straight-A student by the school’s standards, but his scores on national standardized tests didn’t reflect that same level of excellence, scoring below proficiency level. Yazzie fights for her son and believes he is being held back for many reasons. For example, he is unable to bring home textbooks since there are not enough for all students.

Yazzie became frustrated because every time she spoke with Administrators they stated “sorry we do not have that resource.” Fed-up, she ended up filing a lawsuit against the state of New Mexico. She claimed the state was not sufficiently funding public education, which lead to poor student outcomes. She asserted that the State of New Mexico is failing to provide students from disadvantaged economic backgrounds, those who are Native American, those who are English-as-a-second-language learners (ESL), and students with disabilities, are not being provided with adequate and equitable education to prepare them for college and careers.

The Yazzie case eventually merged with another lawsuit brought forward by Louise Martinez who also claims inadequacy in New Mexico’s funding for education, thus becoming the “Yazzie/Martinez” lawsuit. The Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund and the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty assisted in the case.

The Ruling: Insufficient Funding 

Judge Sarah Singleton ruled in favor of Yazzie/Martinez stating, “the vast majority of New Mexico’s at-risk children finish each school year without the basic literacy and math skills needed to pursue post-secondary education or a career.”  The funding provided by the state legislature was ruled as insufficient based on the New Mexico State Constitution. The ruling goes on to say that the Public Education Department (PED) failed its audit and its supervisory role to ensure school districts are adequately spending the money that is provided to them to effectively provide students with a proper education. Judge Singleton instructed the legislature and executive branch to find a funding system to meet the constitutional requirement.

Judge Singleton focused on Article XII, Section 1 of the Educational Clause when making her judgment and considered inputs such as instructional materials like books, reasonable curricula, and quality of teaching. In addition, she reviewed outputs in the state like standardized tests, graduation rates, and college remediation.

The defense noted a lack of education funds to provide services to at-risk school districts, and Judge Singleton noted it was not a valid argument for a constitutional right and that more funds are needed. In addition, the decision outlines 11 funding sources to either create new funding measures or increase those already in place.  

    The Lawsuit’s Impact

    As a result of this historic judgment, bills such as Senate Bill 1 (SB1) have been introduced this session. In addition, all education bills are being monitored through this new filter.

    A lingering question remainsWhen more money is allocated to education, how will our lawmakers increase access to education and what accountability measures will they put in place to ensure better outcomes?

    Key Documents for In-depth information