New Mexico Students Win Landmark Victory in Educational Rights Trial

Munger, Tolles & Olson, as co-counsel to the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) and New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty, won a landmark trial victory on July 20, 2018 on behalf of children, parents, and school districts in New Mexico accusing the state’s education system of violating the state constitution by failing to provide students a sufficient public education and denying them due process and equal protection under the law.

The first-of-its-kind educational rights case asserted that the State of New Mexico’s inadequate education system deprives children – particularly low-income, Native American, English language learner students, and students with disabilities – of the educational opportunities necessary to be ready for college, career and civic life. For years, New Mexico has consistently ranked near or at the bottom of national studies on public education both in terms of educational achievement and graduation rates.

Following several years of litigation and a two-month trial, First Judicial District Court Judge Sarah Singleton concluded that the evidence showed that the State of New Mexico had “violated the rights of at-risk students by failing to provide them with a uniform statewide system of free public schools sufficient for their education.” Based on her findings, the Court ordered defendants to “take immediate steps to ensure that New Mexico schools have the resources necessary to give at-risk students the opportunity to obtain a uniform and sufficient education that prepares them for college and career”

“Today’s decision represents a major victory not just for the children of New Mexico, but for all those who cherish education and seek the best possible future for our country,” Munger, Tolles & Olson attorney and pro bono counsel E. Martin Estrada said in a press release announcing the victory. “New Mexico – a proud state with the nation’s largest percentage of Latinos and one of the largest populations of Native Americans – represents the rich diversity and promise of this country. In recognizing education’s ‘fundamental role in maintaining the fabric of our society’ and requiring that the state do the same, the court acted in accord with the law and the best traditions of our nation.”

The decision concludes four years of litigation, which included well over 100 depositions, millions of pages of discovery and dozens of motions, all prior to trial. During the two-month trial that began in June 2017, educational experts provided testimony about the needs of New Mexico students and the systemic deficiencies undermining student success; school superintendents testified that their districts’ lack resources, quality programs, and state support; and families testified about the lack of educational opportunity in the states’ schools. The State’s experts and officials were forced to concede that students at high-poverty schools have less access to effective teachers – yet the state has failed to provide adequate resources to improve teacher training, compensation, recruitment and retention.

In addition to Mr. Estrada, the Munger, Tolles & Olson attorneys involved in the case include Kenneth M. Trujillo-Jamison, Jessica R. Baril and Nicholas R. Sidney.