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Lawsuit Alleges New Mexico Shortchanges English Language Learners

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A Latino civil rights organization has filed a lawsuit against the state of New Mexico, alleging that its public school system is denying students from low-income backgrounds and English language learners access to a quality education.

The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund filed suit on Tuesday, on behalf of parents from around the state and their school-aged children.

The suit alleges that ELLs are denied equal access to quality teachers and that not enough funding is provided to support such students. The complaint also states that the state is failing to recruit, train and retain Spanish-speaking teachers. The lawsuit also said the state is failing to adequately fund pre-kindergarten programs.

“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,” plaintiff parent Louise Martinez said in  a MALDEF press release. “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.”

According to the lawsuit, three-quarters of eighth-graders who are ELLs were not proficient in reading in 2012-13, and 85 percent were not proficient in math.

New Mexico education officials seem bewildered by the lawsuit. The Associated Press reported that Public Education Department spokesman Larry Behrens said MALDEF’s “motivation seems very odd, and likely political, considering the academic gains of minority students across New Mexico in the last couple years.”