PED: Black Education Act Takes Effect July 1


Anti-racism training for educators, culturally inclusive curriculum and a hotline for reporting school-based incidents of racial bias are among the strategies to be implemented in the coming school year to meet requirements of the Black Education Act, which takes effect July 1.

“For too long, the needs of Black students in New Mexico have not been adequately recognized or supported. We are very grateful to the legislature and the governor for elevating this longstanding need to the level of statute and giving it teeth,” said Public Education Secretary Ryan Stewart, the first Black person to serve as New Mexico’s chief school officer. “This legislation sets clear expectations and provides training and accountability. It also makes explicitly clear that racism will never be tolerated in New Mexico’s public schools. Period.”

The law also requires:

  • Anti-racism policies in every district and state-chartered school;
  • An advisory council to advise the secretary, districts and schools on ways to improve public school education for Black students;
  • A liaison within the Public Education Department to coordinate this work;
  • An annual report to the governor and legislature on progress.

The legislation, House Bill 43, was co-sponsored by Rep. Sheryl Williams Stapleton and Sen. Harold Pope, both of Albuquerque.

“I introduced this legislation because Black students in New Mexico are lagging desperately in school achievement,” Rep. Stapleton said. “The national trend shows that gap is widening since the pandemic, so I thought it was time to do something about it.”

Implementation planning began immediately after Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed the measure into law on April 5. Already, the department has built a list of possible advisory council members.

“I want to have a fully approved, fully functioning council before the end of July. I may not hit the exact targeted deadline, but that’s absolutely what I will work hard to do,” said Deputy Secretary Vickie Bannerman, who is overseeing the work.

Dr. Bannerman has also completed paperwork to create four new positions within the Public Education Department: a Black education liaison, a professional development/training coordinator; a curriculum coordinator; and a hotline manager.

“This is year one, and our goal is to plan, develop and implement what we can. I don’t want a fast failure. I’d rather take the time to build it well so it’s sustainable,” Dr. Bannerman said.

The advisory council, which may have up to 23 members, will advise the secretary, school districts and charter schools on ways to improve public school education for Black students, increase Black parent involvement and increase the number of Black high school graduates who succeed in college or in professional or vocational training.

The state also has Indian Education, Hispanic Education and Bilingual Multicultural Education advisory councils.  

The 2020 four-year graduation rate for Black students in New Mexico was 74%, 3 points below the state average and 7 points below the average for white students.

“The gaps in educational attainment for Black students were a source of concern as well as activism for years in New Mexico Black communities,” said Amy Whitfield, executive director of the New Mexico Office of African American Affairs. “We know this legislation will have a real impact by increasing equity in our schools. I’m grateful that the Public Education Department has included so many community leaders and experts in preparing to implement the Black  Education Act, with the foundation being Black children and families.” 

The legislation also calls for New Mexico’s Public Education and Higher Education departments to cooperate in developing programs and instructional materials that recognize and teach Black culture and anti-racism, and that seek to improve job opportunities for Black New Mexicans in public and higher education. This will be in coordination with New Mexico’s public colleges and universities.

“We are committed to ensuring equitable representation for Black students and educators in classrooms and course materials at all levels in New Mexico,” said Higher Education Secretary Stephanie Rodriguez. “We look forward to collaborating with our partners at the secondary and postsecondary levels, and with community leaders as we work to bring the Black Education Act to fruition.” 

Hiring the liaison is a critical early step because that person will help develop and implement a five-year strategic plan for public elementary and secondary education of Black students and manage the work of the other three team members.

The law requires all school personnel to participate in annual anti-racism training. For this first year, most districts will meet the requirement through existing programs, but eventually, the training coordinator will develop a New Mexico-specific program. 

The hotline manager will develop guidance and standards for operating a hotline that the public can use to report incidents of racism, injustice or discrimination against anyone — not just Black students — in a school setting. The hotline should be up and running by January, Dr. Bannerman said.

With the council, the liaison also will produce reports on current research and best practices to address the Black student achievement gap and to combat discrimination and racism in the public school system. 

The liaison also will prepare an annual status report, due to the governor and legislature no later than Nov. 15 each year. That report will include — for both K-12 and higher education — data by ethnicity on enrollment, student achievement, attendance and truancy, and licensed school employees or faculty. 

New Mexico’s population is about 2% Black, but that small percentage is irrelevant to the need.

“Racism is a problem in our schools. I’ve seen it. I’ve experienced it,” Dr. Bannerman said. “So whether we have one or 1 million, this is needed. Every child deserves a quality education with the same access to opportunities and equity. We will not sacrifice equity, inclusion, representation or quality based on quantity.”