- Associated Press - Thursday, August 13, 2015

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) - The New Mexico Supreme Court heard arguments over the state’s practice of buying textbooks for private and religious schools, which critics said has robbed public schools of nearly $2 million a year.

Those who sued the state Public Education Department and its Cabinet secretary, Hanna Skandera, argued Wednesday that the use of public funds to buy textbooks for private schools violates the state constitution, reported The Santa Fe New Mexican (http://bit.ly/1L8qGbE ).

Advocates of the program countered that money for the books is governed by federal law, because the funds are provided by federal mineral leases. But half of the money the federal government receives from use of public lands is paid to the state.

Plaintiffs Cathy “Cate” Moses and Paul Weinbaum filed their lawsuit in 2012, claiming that the state’s use of public money for private schools has taken money away from public schools.

But both a Santa Fe district judge and the New Mexico Court of Appeals have sided with Skandera and the department.

The plaintiffs’ attorney, Frank Susman, appealed to the Supreme Court because “this has been going on this many years without being challenged,” he said.

He told the Supreme Court justices that Skandera’s policy violates three different sections of the state constitution, including one prohibiting any appropriation not under absolute control of the state being made for educational purposes.

The attorney for Skandera and the Public Education Department, Susan Hapka, argued that the state has been providing textbooks for private schools because children need them.

“It’s supporting children . the state benefits from this,” Hapka told the justices.

Justice Richard Bosson said the high court was going to take a “fresh look” at the matter.

It is unclear how long it will take the high court to decide on the case.

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Information from: The Santa Fe New Mexican, http://www.sfnewmexican.com

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