Oct. 25 – A year-long effort to sharply increase state investments in early childhood education will culminate Nov. 8 with New Mexico voters deciding on a ballot measure.
Voters will be asked to consider approving an increase in annual withdrawals from the state’s Multi-Billion Dollar Permanent Land Grant Fund, which is expected to send a few hundred million dollars more to preschool programs and public schools across the province. kindergarten to 12th grade.
New Mexico lawmakers approved a resolution in 2021 to put Constitutional Amendment 1 on the ballot after years of failed legislation.
Proponents of these measures have cited studies showing the benefits of early childhood programs, including higher school achievement and graduation rates. But that move was pushed back by conservative Republicans and Democrats in the Legislature who feared it would weaken the large land endowment, funded by oil and gas royalties and investment income, which already sends hundreds of million dollars each year to public schools and other beneficiaries.
Lawmakers have discussed tapping into the investment fund, now valued at more than $26 billion, since at least 2010, when it contained about $10 billion.
Constitutional Amendment 1 would increase annual distributions by 1.25% of the fund’s five-year average. Officials’ most recent estimates show that annual distributions would increase by about $150 million for early childhood education and $100 million for public schools.
Congress must also approve additional withdrawals. State congressional delegates introduced federal legislation to accomplish this.
Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and her Republican opponent, Mark Ronchetti, took opposing positions on the statewide ballot measure in their first gubernatorial debate.
“I campaigned to get this proposal through the Legislative Assembly and in front of the voters,” said Lujan Grisham. “Making sure we take a small dash from the Land Grant Permanent Fund, our education endowment fund, is key.”
Ronchetti argued that the endowment is “support” when oil and gas are not major factors in New Mexico’s economy and the proposed amendment would cut it too quickly.
“You look at where the funding is, especially where the funding is for early childhood [education]we have enough funds for that right now,” he said.
While he said during the debate that he would not support the amendment, Ronchetti asked voters who they would trust to spend the money if the amendment passed.
His campaign did not respond to questions seeking additional comment on his position.
Santa Fe Public Schools Superintendent Hilario “Larry” Chavez said the amendment would help the local district and state become more competitive when it comes to hiring qualified educators.
The additional funds could also help Santa Fe pre-kindergarten programs expand, he said.
“I think that would go a long way,” Chavez said. “At these young ages, if [kids] receive a high-quality education for longer periods of time, they do better in school as they progress through grades, and the chances of them graduating from high school increase. »
He added, “Delivering these high-quality programs and being able to fully fund them is critical, and that’s a game-changer.”
Allen Sánchez, president of the Catholic nonprofit CHI St. Joseph’s Children, has been fighting for years to secure additional funding for early childhood education. He said passing Constitutional Amendment 1 could help achieve the goals he and others have been striving for for nearly a decade.
Her organization began seeking a constitutional amendment to draw additional funds from the endowment in the early years of Republican Governor Susana Martinez’s term.
“One of the things that made him attractive was that he didn’t go to the governor’s office … and so the legislature was able to put that on the ballot without Susana Martinez for those eight years that she opposed it,” Sánchez said.
He noted the potential benefits if voters approve the measure.
“Children will be safer. They won’t be given to the wrong person looking after them. They will benefit from quality childcare services. will detect the need for counseling intervention earlier… [and] we are going to have higher graduation rates,” Sánchez said. “That’s all the hope when that happens.