New Mexico lawmakers advance Native American education bills

SANTA FE, NM (AP) — The New Mexico Legislature is considering three bills aimed at improving education for Native American students that would increase funding for education departments and tribal libraries and allow greater tribal control over the how the funds are spent.

Members of the House Education Committee approved the three measures Monday, largely along party lines, with Democratic majorities ensuring the bills pass.

The Tribal Schools Funding Bill would give tribal governments greater authority over how to spend money already allocated by state officials to support Native American education. Instead of going through grants from the New Mexico Department of Public Education, most of the money would go directly to tribal education departments.


Supporters of the funding measures said the state was slow to make aggressive efforts to address Indigenous education, which was highlighted in an unresolved 2018 state court ruling.

Tribal leaders representing the vast majority of the nearly two dozen Native American tribes in the state spoke out in favor of all three measures.

Critics of the measure to give tribal education officials more say in allocating funds raised questions about how the success of education spending would be tracked.

But the bills’ sponsor, Democratic Representative Derrick Lente, said mutual agreements between individual tribes and state officials would specify those parameters, not the legislature.

The school funding bill passed the committee 9-3 and the library bill passed 10-2.

The third bill heard by the committee on Monday would add about $30 million in funding to teacher education programs to address the severe underrepresentation of Native Americans in the teaching profession. The Education Committee approved the measure by an 8-4 vote.

All three bills are referred to the House Appropriations and Finance Committee for further consideration.

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This story has been corrected to show that the School Funding Bill passed 9-3 and the Library Bill passed 10-2.

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Attanasio is a member of the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places reporters in local newsrooms to report on underreported issues. Follow Attanasio on Twitter.

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