The New Mexico Constitution states that “the Legislature shall provide for sufficient education for all children in the state:” “Shall provide” and “sufficient.” I believe that the forward-thinking legislators who set up New Mexico’s State Equalization Guarantee (SEG) understood their constitutional obligation. They recognized that ensuring each child’s access to education was the State’s responsibility. Something this important could not be left to the local communities where unequal resources would result in very different educational opportunities.
Over the years the SEG has been modified and tweaked to try to better meet the needs of New Mexico’s children. However, the legislature has been neglecting it’s obligation to “provide for.” It all hinges on the definition of sufficient. Sufficient doesn’t go up or down depending on how the economy is doing. Sufficient isn’t affected by whether the taxpayers pass a bond issue or which party is in power. Sufficient really isn’t subjective or at the will of politics.
After years of decreasing commitment to education funding by the Legislature, an independent study of what was need to meet the sufficiency language of the constitution was conducted. In today’s dollars, the study concluded that the Legislature was underfunding the public schools by approximately $360 million. But the economic downturn of 2008 prevented the investments in education required by the sufficiency language. The budget always cites the sufficiency clause when budgeting for education, as if by stating that the budget is sufficient; it is.
Several other western states have sufficiency clauses in their constitutions. Oregon and, most recently, Kansas have had a judge rule that the legislatures have not met their constitutional obligations to sufficiently fund their schools. New Mexico has a pending lawsuit that alleges the same thing. It is unfortunate that legal remedies are needed to force the legislative and executive branches of the New Mexico government to meet their constitutional obligations.
Sufficiency doesn’t change depending upon the economy or politics of appropriations. It was purposefully written into the constitution as the only place where the level of funding is written for the express purpose to protect the children and schools from the changing winds of politics and economics. However, when the constitutional obligations are ignored, then the system of checks and balances dictates that the Judiciary must make the decision about sufficiency for the sake of children.