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Higher education leaders show up to support Yazzie-Martinez bill

Reps. Yanira Gurrola (D-Albuquerque) and Cristina Parajón (D-Albuquerque) listen to testimony at the House Education Committee hearing on Wednesday. Gurrola’s (foreground) bill, HB 39, which would support bilingual education programs in public universities, colleges and tribal colleges, passed its first committee hearing with a 7-3 vote. Megan Taros/Source NM
Bill seeking $27M appropriation to boost language instruction clears first committee

Dozens of people testified before the House Education Committee on Wednesday asking it to approve a bill that supporters argue would help bring the state closer to compliance with the Yazzie-Martinez ruling.

House Bill 39, introduced by Rep. Yanira Gurrola (D-Albuquerque), asks for more than $27 million in appropriations to fund more than 40 items, which intend to support bilingual education programs in public colleges, universities and tribal colleges. There are goals to use that investment to build pipelines to bring bilingual educators into K-12 schools after graduation.

Gurrola, serving her first full legislative session, said the bill would also support bilingual mental health care and bilingual medicine programs for future physicians.

“We need to provide an opportunity for all New Mexico students to participate in bilingual, multicultural education programs,” said Susana Ibarra Johnson, a witness for the bill and assistant professor in bilingual education and Teaching English as a Second Language at New Mexico State University.

The bill passed 7-3, with some committee members absent. The bill now heads to the House Appropriations and Finance Committee.

Supporters said the bill outlines a wise use of state money to address inequities in the public education system for bilingual and multicultural students, especially now that the state has historic revenues.

“The (Yazzie-Martinez) ruling was clear that a lack of funds is no excuse. This upcoming budget year there are not lack of funds,” said Steve Siañez, government relations director for National Education Association New Mexico. “The funds appropriated in this bill are a mere drop in the bucket, and our students should never be a drop in the bucket. They are the future of the state … Es hora. It’s time.”

The Public Education Department has requested $5 million for bilingual and multicultural education in public schools.

Educators who supported the bill, which includes Native language programs in its provisions, said it was an opportunity to empower bilingual students and students of color to succeed.

Mary Earick, dean of the School of Education at New Mexico Highlands University, called the bill “historic” for bringing together colleges and universities for a common goal of supporting diverse students.

She cited an Annenberg Institute study that showed students who saw themselves in curriculum and staff, academic and social outcomes for those students went up by 45%.

“We have the opportunity here, today, together to see those findings here in New Mexico,” Earick said.

Republicans were on the fence for varying reasons, including sustainability, the non-reverting nature of the funds and that some components of the bill went beyond the scope of addressing the Yazzie-Martinez ruling.

The three Republicans who voted no – Reps. Candy Spence Ezzell (R-Roswell), Brian Baca (R-Los Lunas) and Jack Chatfield (R-Mosquero) – said they supported the intent of the bill, but ultimately voted no.

“We’ve seen what’s happened to oil and gas over the last 20 years,” Ezzell said. “We’ve seen prices skyrocket, hit bottom and go back up. I don’t want to get a program like this started and have the rug pulled from under us.”

Rep. Ryan Lane (R-Aztec) was present in committee and absent for the vote.

Lane told Source New Mexico after the hearing that he is open to support the bill but has some concerns about the funding model.

Regis Pecos, a witness for the bill and co-founder of the Leadership Institute at Santa Fe Indian School, said some of the flaws that resulted in so few bilingual and multicultural educators and health care workers were “created but not taken responsibility by higher education institutions.”

“We either invest now or pay the consequences of what has resulted in the neglect of appropriately supporting these programs to create the kind of human capital capacity that we don’t have,” Pecos (Cochiti) said. “If we don’t invest we’re never going to have the ability, the capability, of addressing the education crisis.”

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