Lente seeks funding to support Native American education including a teacher pipeline

Hannah Grover
Farmington Daily Times

AZTEC — Three legislators are sponsoring a bill that would appropriate $26.2 million from the state’s general fund to public colleges, universities and tribal colleges.

This money would be used to increase the ability of schools, school districts and tribes to meet the needs of their Native American students.

The House Education Committee on March 1 voted 9-3 in favor of House Bill 87, the Yazzie Lawsuit Higher Education Funding bill, which is sponsored by Rep. Derrick Lente, D-Sandia Pueblo, Rep. D. Wonda Johnson, D-Rehoboth, and Rep. Georgene Louis, D-Albuquerque.

Of the funding, $9 million would go to Navajo Technical University, Diné College and Southwest Indian Polytechnic Institute.

The bill passed the committee on a party-line vote. 

Rep. Alonzo Baldonado, R-Los Lunas, Rep. Jack Chatfield, R-Mosquero, and Rep. Ryan Lane, R-Aztec, voted against the bill. Rep. Rebecca Dow, R-Truth or Consequences, and Rep. Willie Madrid, D-Chaparral, did not cast votes.

More:COVID-19 vaccines available in Shiprock this week

Derrick Lente

Lente is no stranger to the education challenges that Native American students and schools face.

For three years, Lente has introduced bills responding to the Yazzie v. Martinez lawsuit that found New Mexico was not providing sufficient education for at-risk students, including Native American students, English-language learners and special education students.

The Yazzie v. Martinez lawsuit specifically addressed kindergarten through 12th grade students, but a bill Lente has sponsored this year is focused on funding for higher education as a way to improve education in kindergarten through 12th grade for Native American students.

During the committee meeting, Lente described the bill as a capacity-building bill that utilizes higher education programs to increase the capacity of schools and tribes to better serve their Native American students. 

Increasing number of Native American teachers among possible goals

"It is not a higher education bill, rather it's leveraging those folks in higher education capacities to help our students and our tribal communities to develop their own curricula within their own communities," he said.

Lente said the bill funding could be used for creating a pipeline for Native American teachers. He highlighted that only 3% of teachers in New Mexico are Native Americans.

"We need about 1,400 more Native American teachers to achieve adequate representation. Not an easy task, but this bill would put us on a path toward doing that," he said.

More:Collaboration effort brings COVID-19 vaccines to Navajo Nation homes

It also creates two indigenous curriculum materials development and training centers that will collaborate with tribes. 

The third thing the bill does is establish two Native American technical assistance centers.

"These are examples of how we will harness the expertise with higher education and improve our schools," he said.

The bill's fiscal impact report states that there's already an established process for funding higher education request funding for research or projects like the bill proposes.

"Institutions should use that process and leverage their existing funds to prioritize these programs," the fiscal impact report states.

Lente argued that the funding for Native American programs is insufficient. 

Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652 or via email at hgrover@daily-times.com.

Support local journalism with a digital subscription: http://bit.ly/2I6TU0e