The results from the 2022 Kids Count Data Book, released this week by the nonprofit New Mexico Voices for Children, are mixed, the group’s executive director, Amber Wallin, said. NMVC releases the Kids Count Data Book annually at the start of the Legislative session to provide policy makers with information and statistics on how New Mexico’s children and families are doing on four fronts: educationally, economically, health and family and community. Data gathering for the data book was interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic and that problem continues, with some data reflecting pre-pandemic conditions, Wallin said during a press conference this week. Some of the data reflects averages from the years 2016 to 2020, she said. One of the most striking deficits the 2022 data book reveals is child hunger.
A high-profile constitutional amendment appears on its way to an easy victory, with nearly twice as many voters saying they support it than oppose it. The proposal to tap an additional 1.25 percent from the state’s Land Grant Permanent Fund to fund early childhood education and increase public school funding has the support of 51 percent of voters, while just 26 percent say they oppose the proposal. Another 23 percent say they are not sure of how they will vote. The proposal is years in the making, after being blocked by a key Senate committee nearly every year for a decade. The Legislature passed the proposed constitutional amendment last year, sending it to voters.
In November, voters will vote whether an additional 1.25 percent of distribution will come from the Land Grant Permanent Fund to help support early childcare education in New Mexico, as well as address some of the concerns raised in the Yazzie-Martinez lawsuit. The fund, also known as the Permanent School Fund, at around $25 billion, is one of the largest sovereign wealth funds in the world. It grows annually based on a rolling five-year average, which protects the fund from stock market crashes and reductions in oil and gas revenues. The state currently distributes 5 percent of the fund, annually, to the New Mexico Public Education Department and to 20 other public institutions. For 10 years legislators and early childcare advocates worked on a joint resolution that would allow voters to decide if an additional 1.25 percent of the fund’s growth could be spent on early childcare and at-risk students.
A poll commissioned by NM Political Report found that a majority of voters support abortion rights, including a law protecting abortion rights recently passed by the state legislature, and also are poised to approve dipping into the state’s massive land grant permanent fund for education funding. Abortion rights could be at the forefront of midterm elections as the U.S. Supreme Court appears poised to gut the landmark Roe v. Wade decision this summer. When asked in the poll conducted by Public Policy Polling if abortion should be always legal; legal with some limitations; illegal except for rape, incest or to save the mother’s life; or always illegal, a majority said it should be legal (with 30 percent saying always, 25 percent saying legal with limitations). Just 13 percent said it should always be illegal and 29 percent said it should be illegal except in the cases or rape, incest or to save the mother’s life. When asked about the new state law that would allow abortion to remain legal in New Mexico regardless of what the U.S. Supreme Court decides, 53 percent said they supported the recently enacted law and 36 percent said they opposed it.
The New Mexico Early Childhood Education and Care Department released its first four-year fiscal plan, detailing what the department needs in order to deliver high-quality early childhood education and services. The ECECD held a virtual press conference on Wednesday to detail the new plan. Some of the highlights include increasing childhood educator and staff wages and expanding access to PreK for more children. The department projected next fiscal year’s expenses to be $505,883,920 which is expected to serve 27,479 children. The department projects its budget request will increase to $943,289,473 and serve 47,091 children in three years and FY26 will be $943,289,473 and the department anticipates serving .
U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich announced bicameral legislation last week to seek federal approval for the state’s proposed constitutional amendment that, if approved by voters, would tap an additional 1.25 percent from the Land Grant Permanent Fund. Heinrich and U.S. Rep. Melanie Stansbuy, both Democrats, introduced the legislation. U.S. Senator Ben Ray Luján and U.S. House of Representative Teresa Leger Fernández, also both Democrats, are co-sponsors of the legislation. If both Congress and New Mexico voters approve the proposal, which will likely land on the ballot next fall, the state will appropriate the additional 1.25 percent annually from the fund to increase teacher salaries for K-12 public education and to establish new funding for early childhood education. If the U.S. Congress provides its consent to the New Mexico Education Enhancement Act, the proposal will then go before voters, likely in November 2022, to decide.
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.
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.
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.
Proposed education budget cuts could worsen racial and economic inequities in the state, according to some school superintendents. Veronica Garcia, the superintendent of Santa Fe Public Schools, said that if the Legislative Finance Committee’s proposed budget cuts in education are passed, she expects to be looking at a $10.3 million hole in her district’s budget. She is starting with a $7 million deficit in her school budget and if the LFC’s proposed cuts go through, she expects to see another $3.3 million loss. Like the state, Garcia has to balance her budget annually. She says that situation will leave her with no choice but to make cuts that will enlarge classroom size, reduce programming and shrink ancillary roles such as social workers, librarians, nurse aides and nurses.