The Democratic and Republican candidates for governor outlined their plans for education in the state for a crowd of educational advocates on Monday.
While both U.S. Reps. Michelle Lujan Grisham and Steve Pearce seemed to agree there is plenty to fix in the state, their starkest differences came down to state-funded, early childhood education. Their speeches were part of the annual New Mexico Voices for Children Kids Count conference in Albuquerque.
Democratic nominee Lujan Grisham told conference attendees she supported tapping an addition one percent from the state’s land grant permanent fund to fund a long term, sustainable early childhood education program.
“We are going to win universal, early childhood education. We’re going to do it,” Lujan Grisham said.
New Mexico Voices for Children and CHI St. Joseph’s Children, both of which were sponsors of Monday’s conference, have long pushed for using additional money from the land grant permanent fund to pay for early childhood education. Proposals for such often get held up in the Senate Finance Committee.
If the proposal were to pass the Legislature, it would go to the voters, since it would require a change in the state constitution.
Lujan Grisham said she’s not “a Pollyanna” and acknowledged getting the Legislature to pass such a measure would be a “tough lift.”
Lujan Grisham said she might consider adding another state department, with its own secretary, for early childhood education as well. But, she said, as a former cabinet secretary she’s seen competitiveness for funding between departments that can hinder productivity.
“If I do better by having an early childhood education secretary, done,” Lujan Grisham said. “If I don’t, if it’s more competition, then we need to look at a different strategy.”
Pearce stopped short of completely dismissing early childhood education, but said it’s not a cure-all.
“I suspect our problems are somewhat deeper than that,” Pearce said.
After the Republican nominee spoke to the crowd, he clarified his stance with reporters, saying he is not against increased early childhood education, but that the state government should be focused on improving the current education system first.
“The adding on of a new layer of responsibility when you can’t handle the responsibility you have right now, then all your looking for is new failure,” Pearce said.
But Pearce did say he wants to see more early intervention for reading proficiency—something Republicans in the state Legislature and Gov. Susana Martinez have long pushed for. Although Pearce said the third grade — a key time in previous legislation — is too late for intervention.
“By the third grade, the stigma has set it,” Pearce said of students who cannot read proficiently.
Lujan Grisham and Pearce will face off in November’s general election. It’s still unclear whether a Libertarian candidate will also be on the ballot.