March 16, 2017

Early childhood education funding proposal fails again

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Two Democrats joined with four Republican senators in a committee vote Wednesday to effectively kill a proposed constitutional amendment that would tap into New Mexico’s Land Grant Permanent Fund to help pay for early childhood education

The vote in the Senate Rules Committee to table House Joint Resolution 1 likely puts an end to what has become a perennial effort take an extra 1 percent of interest earnings from the $15 billion endowment to spend on early childhood programs.

If approved by voters, the proposal would have generated about $153 million in the first year for early childhood education, increasing to $163 million by the third year it was in place.

The Democrats voting against the resolution were Senate President Pro-tem Mary Kay Papen of Las Cruces and Sen. Clemente Sanchez of Grants. Papen said she supports early childhood funding but won’t support taking more money out of the land grant fund, which already helps fund universities and public schools in the state.

Related: House OKs proposal to tap endowment for early ed

The House approved the measure last week by a near party-line vote.

“I am profoundly disappointed in our inability as a state to fully embrace the science of early childhood education,” resolution sponsor Antonio “Moe” Maestas, D-Albuquerque, said in a news release after the vote. “We will not stop fighting for New Mexico’s future until this resolution goes to the voters. The hardworking people of New Mexico deserve the opportunity to have a say in the future of their families and their state. It is a moral imperative that we invest in early childhood education now.”

Related: Santa Fe archbishop urges lawmakers to approve funding plan for early education

Co-sponsor Javier Martinez, also an Albuquerque Democrat, said “Children who benefit from early childhood programs have significantly better life outcomes in education, health, social behavior, and employment. They are more likely to graduate from high school and college and less likely to be involved in crime.” He pledged to keep trying to pass the measure in future sessions.

But the measure has met opposition from Republicans who call the proposal a “raid” on the permanent fund.

During the House debate last week several Republicans argued that only a portion of the extra money would go to early-childhood programs. According to a fiscal impact report by the Legislative Finance Committee, of the estimated $153 million taken from the fund during the first year about $91 million would go to general education, while $23 million would go to other beneficiaries of the fund.

Contact Steve Terrell at 505-986-3037 or sterrell@sfnewmexican.com. Read his political blog at www.santafenewmexican.com/news/blogs/politics.

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