- Associated Press - Thursday, November 12, 2015

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) - The state’s practice of buying textbooks for private and religious schools is unconstitutional, the New Mexico Supreme Court ruled Thursday.

The high court’s decision reverses a previous Court of Appeals decision that said the practice was allowed despite criticism it took nearly $2 million a year from public schools.

“The framers of our Constitution chose to further restrict the use of public funds by prohibiting their use for the support of private schools,” Justice Edward Chavez wrote for the court. “As a result, a public school under the control of the state can directly receive funds, while a private school not under the exclusive control of the state cannot receive either direct or indirect support.”

Advocates of the program had argued 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 a lawsuit in 2012, claiming that the state’s use of public money for private schools has taken money away from public schools.

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.

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