New Mexico Leads in Supporting System-Involved Youth, Implementing ESSA

After passing two new bills in January and February of this year, state legislators say New Mexico is leading the way in ensuring educational stability for students who have been affected by homelessness and the child welfare and juvenile justice systems.

Bolstered by the involvement of young people with experience within these systems, the two bills signed by New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez will provide significant support for students who are in the state’s care and reiterates the importance of recently signed federal law, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).

Championed by state Senator Gay Kernan (R-Hobbs) and state Representatives Doreen Gallegos (D-Las Cruces) and Gail Chasey (D-Albuquerque), both bills articulate supports necessary to aid system-involved youth in achieving academic success. Senate Bill (SB) 213/House Bill (HB) 301 gives priority placement in graduation requirement courses to students who face disruption in their education due to transfer and states that a student must have equal access to participation in extracurricular activities, special programs and services to which they are entitled. HB 411 assists in the state’s implementation of ESSA by appointing a person of contact (POC) for foster and juvenile justice youth and a required “educational decision maker” for cases with youth alleged to have been abused or neglected.

Gallegos said in a press release, “I’m proud that New Mexico is first in the nation to provide these rights to youth involved in the juvenile justice system. By creating a point of contact in each district, the state will better fulfill its responsibility to these students, including helping them succeed in school, graduate, and become engaged in their education.”

At any given time in New Mexico, there are more than 35,000 children who are homeless or involved in the foster care or juvenile justice systems and struggle with disruptions to their education. Frequent moves can result in missing course credits and threaten a student’s ability to graduate on time.

“Many of these students who do not have stable home environments, change schools multiple times in a single school year and are more likely to drop out of high school. By easing these transitions, we can improve graduation rates and the future prospects for these students,” Kernan said in a press release.

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