DALLAS - New Mexico is facing a new round of litigation over school funding after a lawsuit was filed on behalf of poor and Spanish-speaking students in the Albuquerque and Gallup-McKinley school districts.

The lawsuit, filed March 19 in Gallup state district court by the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty, contends the state is inadequately funding schools in violation of the New Mexico constitution's requirement to provide an equitable and "sufficient" education for all children.

If the lawsuit is successful, the state could be forced to come up with hundreds of millions of tax dollars for schools. A study in 2008 concluded New Mexico was underfunding schools by as much as 15% or more than $300 million at the time.

"Public school education in New Mexico is in crisis," the lawsuit said. "New Mexico's students rank at the very bottom in the country in educational achievement."

The Public Education Department, which is under the control of Republican Gov. Susana Martinez, was named as the defendant.

A spokesman for the New Mexico Department of Education declined comment, saying he had not yet seen the suit.

Lawsuits challenging state methods of funding public schools have been brought in 45 of the 50 states.

Since the early 1970s, New Mexico has faced four major lawsuits over its funding formula.

The most recent decision came on April 27, 2007, when the United States Supreme Court ruled that New Mexico was allowed to deduct federal impact aid to New Mexico school districts when allocating state aid.

In Zuni Public School District v. Department of Education, plaintiff school districts had argued that the state was prohibited from reducing school funding by the amount provided in the form of federal impact aid. The districts are located on federal and tribal lands in predominantly Native American areas with meager property tax bases, qualifying them for federal impact aid.

The state deducted $35.8 million from its aid to the plaintiff districts in 2005-06.

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