New Mexico students conflicted by new ‘free tuition’ program and environmental impact

Education

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – A group of students say they’re conflicted by the state’s proposal for free college tuition. They’re climate advocates who say while some may see the New Mexico Opportunity Scholarship as a step forward, it poses a serious threat to the environment.

The students say they appreciate the state government is becoming more progressive when it comes to education, but they wish New Mexico would become more progressive fighting climate change.

“It’s really going to be us mostly impacted by climate change and our future generations,” said Emese Nagy, a junior at Amy Biehl Charter High School. “Around Albuquerque, we have a lot of communities of color and poorer communities who are disproportionately affected by climate change, so we’re all just trying to stand up for our community.”

“It really is a double-edged blade. New Mexico has never had the best education system, we’re always bouncing between 49 and 50th. It is really important that we give everybody access to a good education,” Nagy continued. “However, what we’re doing now is that education comes at a cost.”

For a number of New Mexican students like Nagy, climate change is real and at the forefront of their minds. They’re working to make their voice heard, from going on strike to heading to the State Capitol.

“I’m the president of Fight For Our Lives. We’re a local, non-profit youth organization so we do different actions, different events around climate and other issues affecting students here in New Mexico,” said Jonathon Juarez-Alonzo, a senior at Native American Community Academy. “Right now, we’re just asking the governor to really pay attention and start making some progress.”

In September, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced the New Mexico Opportunity Scholarship, a plan for free college tuition for all residents. The money to fund the plan would likely come from the state’s oil boom. The state has made investments in new fracking technology that has turned the Permian Basin that covers New Mexico and Texas into one of the world’s largest oil fields. The young activists say it’s a plan they can’t get behind.

“We can either choose greater access to public education and free tuition, or we can choose between a sustainable and livable planet in the future,” said Juarez-Alonzo. “The fact is New Mexican students deserve both.”

One University of New Mexico student was part of a group that met with members of the governor’s cabinet. They discussed the students’ concerns, but the students still feel it’s hypocritical to take the money.

“There’s a lot of questions that a lot of the students have that they just haven’t answered about what’s going to happen,” said Keely Scheffler, a junior at UNM. “I think it’s great that we’re prioritizing education on a larger scale than we ever have, but at the same time, I don’t know how comfortable a lot of people feel with having a destructive industry funding that education for them.”

The students say they plan to continue fighting for the environment and hope the state will start making more changes to save the planet.

KRQE News 13 asked the governor’s office about the students’ gripes. A representative stated the governor has been working to reduce the state’s reliance on oil and gas, but regardless, they are proud of the New Mexico Opportunity Scholarship. It’s designed so students, regardless of income or background, have the chance to build a sustainable career here in New Mexico.

The office also released a letter written by Gov. Lujan Grisham in response to the students’ visits to the Roundhouse and their demands for change. In it, the governor apologized for not being able to meet the students in-person and listed what environmental policies she has either started or completed since taking office. To read the letter, CLICK HERE.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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