In landmark vote, effort to increase early childhood education, K-12 funds passes Senate

State Rep. Moe Maestas sat quietly on a metal folding chair, his hands clasped together, as he watched the three-hour debate play out around him on the Senate floor. At stake was hundreds of millions of dollars for early childhood and public education programs. 

As the call to vote came around 5 p.m. Thursday, Maestas began twiddling his thumbs, tapping his right foot. He had been waiting for this moment for more than five years. Capitol insiders might say the outcome was never in question. The 42-member state Senate voted 26-16 in favor of a ballot question asking New Mexico voters to approve a constitutional amendment allowing the state to tap into its now $22 billion Land Grant Permanent Fund to create an annual revenue stream for prekindergarten and K-12 programs.

After the vote, Maestas, who co-sponsored the effort with Rep. Javier Martínez, a fellow Albuquerque Democrat, said, “This is a victory for the children of New Mexico.

Bill to tap land grant permanent fund for early childhood education clears hurdle

Advocates behind a years-long effort to draw more money for early childhood programs from a multibillion-dollar state investment fund celebrated a major triumph Tuesday. Legislation is headed to the Senate floor for the first time following a 7-4 vote of approval by the Senate Finance Committee — known for stalling similar legislation dating back to 2014. After Tuesday’s hearing, Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas, a sponsor of House Joint Resolution 1, said he felt “fantastic, man, fantastic.” “It’s amazing — the committee finally held a hearing on it, they looked at the figures and realized the fund can handle it,” Maestas said in an interview. The Senate Finance Committee insisted on a compromise amendment that would increase the amount drawn from the now $22 billion Land Grant Permanent Fund to provide additional support for K-12 schools, which already receive hundreds of millions of dollars from the endowment each year.

New Mexico House OKs tapping land grant fund for early childhood education

Tapping revenues for preschool programs from a massive state investment fund has been a Sisyphean task for advocates. Year after year, lawmakers and others who back the plan have pushed legislation through the House — like a boulder up a hill — only to see it stall in Senate committees led by fiscally conservative Democrats. House Democrats finally may have a chance to see the measure clear both chambers and reach the desk of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who has said she would sign it. A more progressive group of Senate leaders say they favor House Joint Resolution 1 — and might even increase the amount to be withdrawn from the endowment to boost funding for K-12 public schools. On Friday, the House voted 44-23, mostly along party lines, to approve HJR 1, which would ask voters to approve a constitutional amendment allowing for a 1 percent annual distribution from the $22 billion Land Grant Permanent Fund — nearly $200 million a year — to pay for services for New Mexico’s youngest children.

Some question why childcare centers are still open during public health emergency

The state’s message that childcare centers in New Mexico should remain open while everyone else is encouraged to stay home is the wrong message, say some early childcare educators. The state has asked early childcare centers to stay open while public schools are closed and to accept more children by loosening regulations. But at the same time, the state is encouraging businesses to rely on remote workers and is encouraging the public to limit itself to gatherings of no more than 100 people. President Donald Trump said Monday that the public should not gather in groups of more than 10. Related: State offers assistance to families and child care providers during emergency

According to a state report, 85.5 percent of early childcare workers are women and 55.1 percent identify as Latina or Hispanic.

Governor signs early education endowment into law

Marisol Baird said her young children, 17-month-old Norah and 4-year-old Liam, don’t yet understand the significance of a bill the governor signed into law during a news conference the family attended Tuesday at the state Capitol. “Someday they will see the results pay off,” Baird said of House Bill 83, which establishes an endowment to help fund early childhood programs throughout New Mexico. “And hopefully for their children, it will be even better.” Surrounded by Cabinet secretaries, lawmakers, parents and kids as she put her signature on the new Early Childhood Trust Fund, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said, “This is a victory for families and children.” The fund will kick off with an appropriation of $320 million in fiscal year 2021 and will be sustained in future years by oil and gas-related revenue sources.

Voters may decide whether to use endowment fund for early ed programs

The New Mexico House of Representatives once again approved legislation that would let voters decide whether the state can withdraw additional money from a nearly $20 billion endowment to create a surge in funding for early childhood programs.

While the measure, proposed for the eighth year in a row, faced pushback from Republicans — some of whom said increasing state investments in both K-12 and prekindergarten education have not led to better education outcomes — the hourslong debate Saturday largely targeted a group that was absent from the chamber: the state Senate. In years past, similar House resolutions have failed to even get a vote on the Senate floor, after facing opposition in Senate committees. “It’s being stonewalled,” said Rep. Moe Maestas, D-Albuquerque, a sponsor of House Joint Resolution 1. The measure passed 44-25, along party lines. Rep. Derrick Lente, D-Sandia Pueblo, also expressed frustration about the failed effort, year after year, to increase funding for early childhood education and care by using revenue from the century-old Land Grant Permanent Fund.

State budget takes center stage, advancing to full House

A House committee on Monday advanced a $7.6 billion budget plan for next fiscal year, giving Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham much of the education funding she had asked for yet choosing not to back her marquee free-tuition plan. The House Appropriations and Finance Committee approved House Bill 2 with an increase of $529 million, or 7.5 percent, from the current year’s budget. The bill passed by a vote of 11-5 along party lines, with Republicans decrying the spending level as too high. The bill is expected to be taken up by the full House later this week. 

The House panel found a middle ground between the fiscal year 2021 spending plan proposed by Lujan Grisham and that recommended by a key legislative panel. The governor had called for a $7.68 billion spending plan, while the the Legislative Finance Committee recommended $7.55 billion. 

“It’s been a very good working relationship,” said Rep. Patricia Lundstrom, chairwoman of the committee, speaking of the Governor’s Office.

Early childhood education funding boost clears first committee

The state House Commerce and Economic Development Committee gave the green light Friday to legislation calling for a constitutional amendment to tap more of the state’s nearly $20 billion Land Grant Permanent Fund, even as the governor is prioritizing an alternate proposal to create a new trust fund for a similar purpose. The committee voted 7-4 along party lines to pass House Joint Resolution 1, which would allow additional distributions of 1 percent from the fund to be used for early childhood educational services. Under current law, annual distributions from the fund are 5 percent of its five-year average value. The legislation, which would need to be approved by voters in a general election, has been proposed multiple times in previous years and failed repeatedly. “In order to uplift New Mexico’s children from poverty, we believe it’s of utmost importance to invest in our children,” Rep. Javier Martinez, an Albuquerque Democrat and one of the sponsors of HJR 1, told the committee.

Low pay: A stumbling block for quality childcare

Michelle Masiwemai — like many early childhood workers — is a mom. But her job at a Las Cruces home-based child care center didn’t pay enough to support her 8-year-old daughter, who lives with her parents in Guam while she and her fiancé try to get on firmer financial footing. The daughter of two educators, including a kindergarten teacher who now teaches early childhood education at the college level, Masiwemai was raised in a family of 10 children. 

“My whole life I’ve been around children. I was a babysitter. I was the little girl who took care of all the little kids at the parties and planned all the activities.

Governor makes final, futile pitch on early ed

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham made her last pitch to a Senate committee Friday for additional funding for early childhood education. But she couldn’t get a vote. With her 3-year-old granddaughter in tow, the newly elected Democratic governor called for lawmakers to consider using a larger share of the state’s nearly $18 billion land grant permanent fund to pay for pre-kindergarten programs.

Lujan Grisham had backed a constitutional amendment that would let voters decide whether to take an additional percentage point from the fund for early childhood education, on top of the 5 percent the state currently uses each year for public schools and other institutions. When Democrats joined with Republicans on the Senate Rules Committee to block that idea, Lujan Grisham threw her support behind a measure that called for half a percent. Senate Bill 671 passed the chamber’s education committee.