New Mexico examines new investments in early education

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — The state House of Representatives on Friday endorsed a proposed constitutional amendment that could funnel more than a billion dollars toward early childhood education over the next six years in New Mexico.

The Democratic-dominated House vote Friday in favor of the initiative that would tap an additional 1% share each year from the state’s $20 billion Land Grant Permanent Fund and expand beneficiaries to include prekindergarten.

A competing proposal sponsored by Democratic Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth would increase trust distributions to K-12 education. Approval of the House plan sets the stage for compromise negotiations that might allocate new money to both early childhood education and K-12 schools.

The debate is taking place amid major disruptions in public education, with most students studying remotely from home because of the pandemic and emergency health guidelines.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has promoted the initiative to increase funding for early childhood education since her election in 2018, amid evidence that such programs are crucial.

Increasing withdrawals from the permanent fund from 5% to 6% would limit future earnings on investments and could limit spending on education in the long run.

Approval by the Legislature would trigger a statewide vote on the amendment during a future election, and Congress must also authorize changes to the state’s land grant trust.

New Mexico’s land grant fund distributed nearly $640 million to public schools during the fiscal year ending in June 2019.

News Reporter