February 28, 2019

Senate Finance Committee restores bill creating early ed department


New Mexico State Senate.

Just days after the Senate Education Committee drastically pared down a bill creating a new early childhood education department — stripping much of its oversight of programs for young children — the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Michael Padilla, convinced another panel of lawmakers to reverse the changes.

The Senate Finance Committee on Thursday unanimously approved an amendment undoing the earlier move, which would have torn the proposed new department in half.

“We heard a rallying cry that people want full accountability and continuity across the early childhood education spectrum,” Padilla, an Albuquerque Democrat, said Thursday after the Finance Committee’s vote.

The new amendment of Senate Bill 22 makes it clear that the early childhood education department — which Padilla envisions as a one-stop shop of services for children from birth to age 5, including prekindergarten for 3- and 4-year-olds — will maintain oversight of all such programs.

Currently, several state agencies provide programs for children and oversee services offered by private contractors. Among them are the Public Education Department, the Children, Youth and Families Department, the Human Services Department and the Department of Health.

SB 22, which aims to create more continuity for families seeking early child services, has had its share of struggles. Members of the Senate Rules Committee, who heard the proposal first, tinkered with it for a week while adding a series of amendments; all of them had Padilla’s consent.

On Monday, however, members of the Senate Education Committee voted in favor of what Padilla considered an “unfriendly” amendment that would have left the new department with control of only the programs now overseen by the Children, Youth and Families Department, such as home visiting services for parents of new infants, child care assistance and privately run day care and preschool programs.

In particular, the amendment would have excluded public preschool programs overseen by the Public Education Department.

Padilla has argued that all programs for children up to age 5 should fall under one roof.

Several members of the Senate Finance Committee agreed.

“This is absolutely needed,” said Sen. John Sapien, D-Corrales. “There’s a reason to keep it all together and keep PED in the new system.”

“I feel great it all got corrected,” Padilla said.

The bill goes next to the full Senate for consideration.