Academic journal

Education Change to New Mexico Voters

From left, Nia Buttler, Isabella Grundler and Samara Acevedo-Chacon, play in sheets outside the SFPS Early Childhood Center in Santa Fe, Monday, Oct. 24, 2022. They are in the center’s 2-year-old class. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal

Inside ChildCo Day School’s preschool classrooms, children use their imaginations as they play with blocks and learn to deal with conflict.

They have a space dedicated to books, figures and family photos.

It’s the kind of early childhood curriculum that Democrats and Republicans have embraced over the past decade as a powerful strategy to boost school achievement and promote healthy families.

New Mexico is expected to provide $579 million this year in pre-K, child care assistance, home visits for new parents and other early years programs, double the amount from five years ago.

But the next funding decision is up to the voters.

A measure in the Nov. 8 ballot would amend the state Constitution to allow larger withdrawals from New Mexico’s largest permanent fund – an additional 1.25 percentage points, increasing the annual distribution from 5% to 6, 25%.

That would generate an additional $140 million for early childhood education in the budget year that begins next summer and an additional $90 million for public schools more broadly, according to recent projections. But the amount would fluctuate over time, peaking in the next few years.

Proponents describe it as a necessary investment that would allow services to reach more families and provide a stable stream of funding, protected from the volatility of oil and gas revenues. The New Mexico Department of Early Childhood, they note, estimated it would need an additional $505 million over three years to provide universal access to early childhood services.

“The current oil boom – as we have seen painfully happen time and time again as a state – will not last,” said Elizabeth “Eli” Cuna, campaign manager for the Vote Yes for Kids initiative and mother. of a newborn. “We cannot pass up the opportunity to make a permanent and meaningful investment in our most important resource.”

For more than a decade, the proposal sparked heated debate in the Legislative Assembly. It was approved last year, sending the proposal to voters in this year’s general election.

Opponents say the constitutional amendment is unnecessary.

Roundhouse policymakers, they say, have already prioritized early childhood and other education programs without drawing more from the permanent fund.

An early childhood trust fund established in 2020, for example, is expected to reach a balance of $8.3 billion by the end of 2025, enough to provide $235 million in annual funding for early childhood programs. .

“I don’t think we need the money right now,” Republican Sen. Gay Kernan, a retired Hobbs teacher, said of the ballot measure. “People don’t know or understand that extra oil and gas revenue just floods the early childhood trust fund.”

Ivydel Natachu, a kindergarten teacher working with 3-year-olds at Child Co Day School in Albuquerque, is seen here Oct. 24, 2022. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

For Ivydel Natachu, who teaches the “Roadrunners” class for 3-year-olds at ChildCo in Albuquerque, the debate has personal significance.

She sees the election measure as a way to increase the low salaries of early childhood educators and provide professional development training that will improve the quality of the workforce.

She sees firsthand, she said, the impact that high-quality preschool can have on children and their families.

“We are here at their most critical moment of development,” Natachu said.

“Something That Works”

Few on Capitol Hill question the effectiveness of pre-K — a key recipient of New Mexico’s early childhood funding.

Analysts working for the Legislative Finance Committee have found lasting academic gains for children who participate in pre-K, and the effect appears to be amplified by some programs that extend the school year if conducted in a high manner. quality, analysts say.

The ballot measure aims to fund both parts of the equation. Sixty percent of the additional distribution would go to early years programs, such as pre-K, childcare assistance and other services.

The remaining 40% would go more broadly to public schools to improve teaching for students at risk of failure, extend the school year and pay teachers.

“We’re not creating anything new,” said Allen Sánchez, president of St. Joseph’s Children, a nonprofit that operates a home-visiting program but does not accept government funding. “We are developing something that works.”

It would have a cost.

The additional distribution would come from the permanent school fund, the largest component of the permanent land grant fund. It is a sovereign wealth fund – one of the largest in the country – operating much like an endowment and growing on investment income and royalties from the production of oil and gas on the lands of the state.

Valued at about $24 billion earlier this year, the land-grant fund is distributing 5% of its recent average annual value, or about $1 billion a year, to support spending at schools, universities, hospitals and other beneficiaries.

The balance would grow more slowly if the distribution rose to 6.25%.

Eventually — perhaps 25 years from now, or the 2040s — the fund would actually make less money at the 6.25% payout ratio than if it had stood alone at 5%, according to the Legislative Economists.

Sen. William Sharer, R-Farmington, said the math made it the wrong decision.

New Mexico is already struggling to effectively spend the early childhood money currently available, he said, and it would be better to have additional money from the permanent land-grant fund in the decades to come.

“The children of the future will pay the price,” he said, “and the children of today will not benefit.”

Opponents also raise legal questions about the proposal and suggest there is nothing in place that would prevent lawmakers from using the additional distribution to supplant other education funding, rather than increase spending. of education.

“Bottom of the Barrel”

The debate comes as New Mexico faces the aftermath of a 2018 court ruling that found the state failed to provide sufficient education to every student. The decision focused on students from low-income families, students with disabilities, English language learners, and Native American students.

The court suggested that funding for education in New Mexico was insufficient.

The state has responded by increasing teacher salaries and recruitment efforts, and offering financial incentives to districts that extend learning time, among other efforts.

But the school results remain dismal.

Proponents of the early years ballot measure say the extra funding could make a real difference to programs that work.

In a randomized study supervised by the University of New Mexico, for example, one-year-old children whose parents participate in a home-visiting program offered by CHI St. Joseph’s Children demonstrated better development in the resolution of problems, social skills and other areas, compared to children not enrolled in the program.

A university researcher called it “promising evidence” of the program’s effectiveness, but said more studies were needed to track longer-term results.

“Most people have accepted that early childhood programs alleviate toxic stress — the negative childhood experiences that have held New Mexico back for years,” said Sánchez, of St. Joseph’s Children.

Opponents — mostly Republican lawmakers over the past decade, in addition to some fiscally conservative Democrats — say more money isn’t the answer.

New strategies for teaching reading, in particular, would be helpful, Kernan said.

“We have to do something different,” she said, “or we’re never going to get out of the bottom of the barrel.”

Sharer said past increased distributions from the permanent land-grant fund – adopted in 2003 to boost funding for education – have not made a significant difference.

In a special election 19 years ago, voters approved increasing the annual payout rate from 4.7% to 5.8%, with gradual reductions to 5% by 2017. The additional product went to public schools and other beneficiaries.

“We’re going to waste the money,” he said of this year’s proposal. But the next step is up to the voters.