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.

Despite early ed funding setback, governor pushes enabling law

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham took the unusual step Wednesday of pressing for enabling legislation on a constitutional amendment that hasn’t been sent to the voters, much less been approved by them. With her 3-year-old granddaughter, Avery Stewart, on her lap, Lujan Grisham served as an expert witness for Senate Bill 671. This proposal is contingent on voters someday approving the expenditure of half a percent of the $18 billion Land Grant Permanent Fund to expand early childhood education. Lujan Grisham, a Democrat, helped get the bill through the Senate Education Committee on a party-line 6-3 vote. All the members of her party supported it, but the Republicans voted against it.

Early childhood ed funding proposal stalls again

Several Democrats joined with Republicans on a state Senate committee Monday to block a proposed constitutional amendment on early childhood education funding, snubbing a priority for members of their party in the New Mexico House and posing a challenge to the agenda of newly elected Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham. The Senate Rules Committee tabled a resolution that would have asked voters to decide whether the state should take an additional 1 percent of the nearly $18 billion land grant permanent fund each year to expand services to the youngest New Mexicans. Backed by a coalition that includes liberal advocacy groups and the Catholic Church, the measure has foundered for years in the face of opposition from budget hawks among Senate Democrats who contend the proposal would undercut the growth of an endowment that is key to the state’s school system. But Lujan Grisham urged lawmakers in her State of the State Address this year to consider taking a “responsible pinch” — a “poquito” — of the fund to pay for more early childhood education programs.

Within hours of the Rules Committee’s vote on Monday, the Democratic governor offered up an alternative to the tabled bill, proposing to take half as much money and designate it specifically for pre-Kindergarten, with a separate provision she argued should assuage the concerns of fiscal conservatives concerned about depleting the fund. If Lujan Grisham can win support for that idea, she will have pulled off a victory that has eluded Democratic leaders in the House.

House Dems aim to fast-track early childhood measure

Democrats in the state House of Representatives say they hope to move quickly to approve a measure that would draw more money from the state Land Grant Permanent Fund for early childhood education, thereby pressuring powerful Sen. John Arthur Smith to give it a hearing. The proposed state constitutional amendment, House Joint Resolution 1, could get its first committee hearing within a week, far earlier than at any time in the eight years Democrats have pushed the measure. “I think it will be a priority,” said Rep. G. Andrés Romero, D-Albuquerque, who on Wednesday became chairman of the House Education Committee. He said that committee likely will hear new bills by Wednesday, though it’s unclear if the proposed constitutional amendment will land there first. The House on Wednesday assigned 155 bills for committee hearings.

Creative thinking brings child care center to Jal

A visitor heading down NM-128 to Jal would be forgiven for believing there were more people driving pickups and equipment trucks on the congested state highway than living in the small oil patch town of just over 2,100 people. Jal is an old ranching community — JAL was the brand of the John A. Lynch herd, brought to the area by settlers in the early 1800s — but today, oil is its economic engine. And that engine is humming. New Mexico’s most recent oil and gas boom has filled Heaven in a Cup, a retro burgers-and-shake shack off Main Street, with hungry oil field workers. Encampments of RVs and campers have sprung up around town and the economic resurgence has helped refuel the tiny town that sits just across the border from Texas.

Pearce and Lujan Grisham talk education plans

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.