Suit Seeks to Declare Education a Fundamental Right Violated By State's Funding for Economically Disadvantaged and English Learner Students

SANTA FE, NEW MEXICO - In the first case of its kind filed in the State, MALDEF today filed a lawsuit, Louise Martinez v State of New Mexico, seeking to establish education as a fundamental right and to ensure that New Mexico's at-risk children are provided a sufficient education as required under the New Mexico Constitution. The suit, separate from one filed weeks ago that centered on funding, was brought on behalf of several frustrated parents and public school children from around the state, including Española, Santa Fe, Albuquerque, Zuni, Magdalena, Las Cruces and Gadsden.

"Every state has an obligation to prepare all of its students to succeed in the future, and New Mexico is failing in this duty with respect to far too many of its children and future leaders," said Thomas A. Saenz, MALDEF President and General Counsel. "The courts must act to bring justice and equity to New Mexico's education system."

The parent plaintiffs and other supporting organizations challenge the State's denial of their children's constitutional right to access the educational opportunities they need to succeed in the classroom. The complaint asserts that this right has been violated through a series of State-created arbitrary obstacles, including unfair and non-transparent school accountability grading and teacher evaluation systems that drive quality teachers and leaders from schools disproportionately enrolling English Learner ("EL") and low-income students. Plaintiffs also complain of the arbitrary and inadequate funding for EL and economically disadvantaged students, as well as the State's failure to expand pre-kindergarten programs to ensure all at-risk students can access those programs. Plaintiffs further argue that the State's failure to support and implement fully the Indian Education Act, the Hispanic Education Act, and the Bilingual Multicultural Education Act deprive students of the cultural programs that are essential to a sufficient education as required under the New Mexico Constitution.

MALDEF began its investigation a couple of years ago following its discussions concerning the chronic achievement gaps with several local and state community groups, including the Latino Education Task Force, as well as local leaders and parents in New Mexico. These gaps included 20-plus percentage points on the State's standardized tests, with less than one-half of the minority and at-risk students earning "proficient" ratings on their tests. Following the substantial investigation, and another failed legislative session; the parents and children asked MALDEF to sue.

Plaintiff parent Louise Martinez added, "I went to the same school my daughter attends, and nothing has changed. The school is rated F, the classrooms are overcrowded, the kids need support, and violence is high. My children and all the children in New Mexico deserve better. Tomorrow is too late, we need to change New Mexico's education system now before we're stuck in the past."

In addition to Hinojosa, MALDEF attorneys on the case are Marisa Bono and Ernest Herrera; plaintiffs' local counsel is David Garcia of Santa Fe. A copy of the complaint can be found here.

Founded in 1968, MALDEF is the nation's leading Latino legal civil rights organization. Often described as the "Latino Legal Voice for Civil Rights in America" MALDEF promotes social change through advocacy, communications, community education and litigation in the areas of education, employment, immigrant rights and political access. For more information on MALDEF, please visit:

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Copyright 2009 MALDEF — Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund