NM Voters to Decide Major Funding Shift for Early Childhood Education
Wednesday, October 26, 2022
In educational performance, New Mexico consistently ranks at or near the bottom among the 50 states, but it could change if an influx of dedicated money is approved by voters next month.
The state's economy is heavily dependent on oil and gas, which also means a roller coaster of boom-and-bust cycles. But the boom times have led the state to accumulate $26 billion in its Land Grant Permanent Fund, one of the largest sovereign wealth funds in the world.
On Nov. 8, voters will decide if an additional 1.25% of the fund's growth should be spent to support early childhood care and education, as well as at-risk students.
Jacob Vigil, senior research and policy analyst for New Mexico Voices for Children, explained why voting for the proposal should be easy.
"Not only would it not impact the General Fund, it wouldn't be a tax on New Mexicans," Vigil pointed out. "It also would not impact the solvency of the fund in any real way. We've already been withdrawing 5% a year out for other beneficiaries, mostly public education."
Polls indicate a majority of voters support the measure, although critics argued the fund already provides three-quarters of a billion dollars for education, and tapping it further jeopardizes future interest income for the state.
The ballot question follows creation of the New Mexico Early Childhood Education and Care Department, which would receive about 60% of the new funding.
The measure would dedicate money to be spent on universal preschool and child care, and bolster home-visiting programs for new parents. Another roughly $100 million would be directed to the state's K-12 programs.
Vigil thinks it makes sense for New Mexico, where more than one in four children under age five live in poverty, one of the highest rates in the nation.
"This fund is drawn from the wealth of our state," Vigil noted. "It should be something that benefits future generations, especially since we are ranked so low, so consistently, on measures of child well-being and education."
If the amendment passes, 40% of the additional distribution would address some of the concerns raised by a lawsuit known as Yazzie and Martinez v. New Mexico. In 2018, a state District Court judge ruled New Mexico was failing to prepare students equally for college and a career - specifically citing a lack of sufficient education for Native Americans.
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