Governor Lujan Grisham’s 3-year Performance Regarding Yazzie/Martinez is Both Reactionary and Institutionally Racist

MLG Administration’s claim that it’s addressing systemic racial disparities in education belie the facts.

  • “Institutional racism results in data showing racial gaps across every system. For children and families it affects where they live, the quality of the education they receive, their income, types of food they have access to, their exposure to pollutants, whether they have access to clean air, clean water or adequate medical treatment, and the types of interactions they have with the criminal justice system.”- From “What Racism Looks Like: An Infographic.” Published by the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

When Michelle Lujan Grisham was a U.S. Congresswoman running for governor in 2018, she did what a lot of so-called progressives did: she called on incumbent Governor Susana Martinez to support the Court’s landmark ruling and not appeal the decision (which spotlighted discriminatory polices in access to education for Native American, Hispanic, English Language Learners, and disabled children).

In July of 2018, as reported by Sylvia Ulla of New Mexico In Depth, candidate Lujan Grisham stated:

““For too long, our education system has failed our children, educators, families and communities, drastically undermining our economy and our public safety while straining our overburdened social services. Today, I am calling on Governor Martinez to publicly commit to not appealing the landmark education lawsuit decision,” said Michelle Lujan Grisham. “However, if Governor Martinez does not put our students and educators first, I will immediately halt any appeal initiated by her administration upon taking office.””

In early 2019, after being sworn in as governor, Lujan Grisham made good on her promise to halt any appeal of the Court’s Judgment and Order – and she approved additional funding for a relatively meager down-payment to address a few of the problems identified in the Court’s Final Judgment and Order.

But even as she announced her decision not to appeal the Court’s ruling, her indifference towards systemic racism embedded in state education policy began to seep through the layers of her political persona, when she told an editorial board that “she agrees with the spirit of that ruling but that her administration will mount a vigorous legal defense as reported Dan Boyd and Shelby Perea, in the Albuquerque Journal.

Boyd and Perea also reported the new governor as saying: ““We will litigate aggressively each finding and each fact,” Lujan Grisham said during a meeting with Journal editors and reporters. “I am not inclined to a consent decree – I think that would be problematic in any number of ways.”

In the months since being elected governor – thirty-six of them and counting – Lujan Grisham has shown through actions how unconcerned she is in having her public education department adequately address the institutional racism identified by the Court’s general directives.

Just eleven months after offering band-aids instead of serious surgery for the injuries inflicted by the state’s education policies on hundreds of thousands of children of color, the governor decided her administration had done enough to address decades of neglect of minority students’ education.

On March 13, 2020, Lujan Grisham shamelessly asked the Court to dismiss the case – something she never honestly explained she would do when she was the Democratic gubernatorial candidate in 2018.

On July 14, 2020, the Court denied the Governor’s motion.

In his “Order Denying Defendants’ Motion For Entry of Order of Satisfaction of Injunction and Dismissal of Action,” Judge Matthew Wilson (who was assigned the Yazzie/Martinez case upon the death of Judge Singleton who originally heard and ruled on the case), wrote:

“There is a lack of evidence to establish that Defendants have substantially satisfied this Court’s Final Judgment and Order regarding all at-risk students. The Court’s Final Judgment and Order requires comprehensive educational reform that demonstrates substantial improvement in student outcomes to ensure at-risk students are college and career ready. The State has taken immediate steps to avoid irreparable harm, but that does not end the analysis. Defendants must not only take immediate steps to execute short-term reforms, but must also ensure long-term, comprehensive reforms. Implementation and compliance are merely in their initial stages. The Court will retain jurisdiction over this case until the State implements long-term, comprehensive reforms, consistent with the Court’s Final Judgment and Order and its Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law. The State will not be deemed to have complied with this Court’s order until it shows that the necessary programs and reforms are being provided to all at-rick students to ensure that they have the opportunity to be college and career ready.”

The governor’s Public Education Department continues to drag its feet.

The reforms demanded by the Court in its 2018 Final Judgment and Order, along with its July 2020 Order have yet to be seriously developed – in November of 2021 the newest Secretary told legislators and stakeholders a plan would be ready in December.

(It’s noteworthy that the Public Education Department has had three new leaders in three years.)

The Candle has tried to get a response from the Public Education Department (PED) to a series of questions regarding a plan reported to have been drafted by Governor Richardson era Secretary of education, Veronica Garcia, PhD.

According to reporting last week by Cedar Attanasio of Associated Press/Report for America, in the Santa Fe New Mexican:

“García said she submitted a draft in early October and understood at the time state education officials would refine and format it. But she never heard back from them.

“I don’t know what happened after that. That would be, I think, a good question for PED or the Governor’s Office,” she said.

The press contact for PED told The Candle that she was not authorized to say anything other than “The Public Education Department’s Yazzie Martinez Consolidated Lawsuit Response Plan has not yet been released.  We were overly optimistic when we announced a self-imposed goal of releasing it before the end of the year. The lawsuit response most definitely has NOT been “kicked down the road again” (your language). We are working hard on it and want to be sure we have the strongest plan possible while working with multiple stakeholders.”

More on the PED’s response and their unmet promises regarding the plan in the next report.

What’s clear to many representing the children affected by institutional racism layered in New Mexico’s approach to education: After wasting three years, the governor’s Public Education Department should work with efforts such as those outlined in the Tribal Remedy Framework (TRF) and with groups representing all stakeholders – instead of hiding out.

In the next report, The Candle will detail the failure of the Lujan Grisham administration and previous administrations to acknowledge, through adequate corrective action, the systemic racism which pervades the state’s educational system.

The reporting will highlight the most recent indifference shown by the governor and her public education department in developing a plan with Native American and Hispanic stakeholders.

The Candle will also provide a report on how the legislature and governor have a moral responsibility to set aside at least $600 million of the expected “new money” in the coming session as a seriously overdue down payment to guarantee that funding is available for a dutifully developed corrective plan addressing the Court’s findings – a plan that should be developed with the assistance of the plaintiffs and related stakeholders.