U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich and U.S. Representative Melanie Stansbury, both Democrats from New Mexico, on Wednesday announced that they had introduced federal legislation that would give Congress the green light needed for the state to tap into its permanent land grant fund of several billion dollars for early childhood. education.
Congressional approval and the support of New Mexico voters in the November 2022 general election are both needed for a new state constitutional amendment to come into effect, allowing the state to withdraw 1.25% additional from the five-year average endowment to fund early childhood programs and beef increase public school revenues from Kindergarten to Grade 12.
The Land Grant Permanent Fund, largely funded by investment income and oil and gas royalties on state lands, was recently valued at over $ 25 billion, state representative Moe Maestas said. , D-Albuquerque.
The move would inject about $ 127 million a year into early childhood education, and advocates in the region say it is chronically underfunded statewide. It would also allocate an additional $ 84.7 million to public K-12 schools, which already receive hundreds of millions of dollars each year from the state land endowment. The proposed amendment provided that the pullout would not occur in a fiscal year in which the five-year investment fund average fell below $ 17 billion.
State lawmakers decided earlier this year to put the amendment issue on the ballots.
“This constitutional amendment will provide the stability necessary to develop, improve and maintain our early childhood system,” Jessa Cowdrey, director of public policy at CHI St. Joseph’s, said at a press conference Wednesday. “Stability that, at times, is lacking with our roller coaster of oil revenues and the ebb and flow of federal funding.”
The Albuquerque-based nonprofit has long supported the proposal and released the results of a poll earlier this year showing 63% of Republicans and 79% of Democrats support the decision.
The announcement of the new legislation, also supported by United States Democratic Representative Teresa Leger Fernandez and United States Senator Ben Ray Luján, has been in the works for a decade, Heinrich said at the press conference.
It comes as New Mexico continues to experience a boom in the oil and gas industry.
As Stansbury called on the state to diversify its economy, she added, “So in the short term we have to make the best use of these funds. And we’ve been fortunate and fortunate to have the largesse of one of the biggest revenue growth in oil and gas revenues in the past three to four years. “
The new legislation coincides with the recent release of the Department of Early Childhood Education and Care‘s new four-year financial plan, which projects large discrepancies between projected spending and income as federal relief funds in Pandemic cases run out after 2023, even with declining birth rates.
The plan projects a shortfall of up to $ 504.98 million in fiscal year 2026, when spending is estimated at $ 943.28 million.
The plan also stresses the need to increase low wages among workers in industry, who are largely women; improve the quality of services; and identify the “real cost” of delivering programs to young children.
“Our high-risk families with young children will need a deeper and more intense intervention, and it will cost more,” Early Childhood Education Secretary Elizabeth Groginsky said in an interview on Wednesday. . “We have very few children who fall into ‘low risk’ in our prenatal period at 3 [years old] populations. “
Groginsky said child care services, home visiting and preschool programs do not reach all families in need.
Federal funds the department is using to expand families’ eligibility for child care assistance are set to expire in 2024, and Groginsky hopes other sources will help expand the expansion – including the Permanent Fund for Child Care Assistance. land subsidies.
In 2020, state lawmakers approved a permanent trust fund for the new early childhood department with an initial investment of $ 300 million, which will bring in $ 30 million in fiscal year 2023.