SANTA FE – The New Mexico Public Education Department is working with school districts and internet providers to expand broadband access in rural areas struggling with remote learning, according to lawyers for the state.
In a response filed in court this week, the lawyers also said school funding hasn’t been cut since the pandemic started.
The filing comes after plaintiffs in a landmark education lawsuit argued that the state’s attempts to provide internet access and learning devices were “woefully insufficient.”
In a motion filed in December, the plaintiffs asked state District Judge Matthew Wilson to order the state to connect more children to online learning by immediately identifying students who lack laptops or tablets and providing internet vouchers for at-risk households.
With in-person learning currently off limits, the inability to access remote classes has been a challenge for many rural and low-income students, particularly Native American children living on tribal lands.
Court documents show the Public Education Department mapped more than 500 public Wi-Fi hot spots around the state and obtained thousands of quotes from internet service providers for 19,000 students in rural areas. The agency also distributed about 6,200 laptops and 700 residential hot spots, all of which went to tribal communities.
The documents also show school districts had access to $6 million in federal relief aid and state emergency funding to buy laptops and hot spot devices and help families pay for internet access.
The state also provided a question-and-answer sheet to find ways to provide students with internet access and created a special team to help solve connectivity issues, the Santa Fe New Mexican reported.
In 2018, a state district court ruled in favor of Navajo and Hispanic plaintiffs, finding that New Mexico failed to provide adequate educational opportunities to poor and minority students and those with disabilities. The long-running case has been a driving force in educational policy in a state where per-student spending and educational achievement hover near the bottom of national rankings.
In June, a judge rejected Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s attempt to have the case dismissed.
State officials have argued that they share the goals of the litigants but don’t want courts micro-managing policy.