Governor, families collecting resources for early childhood education funding

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham speaks with 25-year-old Odalys Solis and her mother as she gathers support for a constitutional amendment that would provide an estimated $140 million for early childhood education next year in Albuquerque in the South Valley on Wednesday. The amendment is to be voted on next week, and would draw from the permanent school fund, which is one of the largest funds in the country. (Chancey Bush/Albuquerque Journal)

As a mother of three who had her first child as a teenager, Alicia Fout faced some significant financial struggles, sometimes picking and choosing which bills to pay each month.

“Study and work and trying to balance everything — it was always one of those ‘fun games,’” he said.

But with the recent expansion of free early childhood education, he was able to enroll her in pre-kindergarten for 3 years, which he could not do with his other kids and which financially saved him and his family.

“He really brought a lot of money back into our house so we could pay the bills and not stay,” he said. “I can’t just pay the bills and still have a little extra for the kids and do things they enjoy and put money into their savings.”

Fout and his family joined more than 100 people – community advocates, education officials, state legislators and the governor – in the Albuquerque Valley on Wednesday afternoon to strengthen support for constitutional amendment 1, which funds early childhood education by nearly $150 million in the next two years.

The amendment, which is to be decided by voters next week, would increase the annual distribution from the permanent school fund by 1.25 percentage points to 6.25%. Sixty percent of that would go to early childhood education and the rest would go to the instruction of “at-risk” students.

For the fiscal year beginning next summer, that added an estimated $140 million for early childhood education and another $90 million for public schools. They are not quantitative, though, and will vary over the years.

Early childhood education helps students all the way down the line, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said, adding that discussions about how to negotiate more money for early childhood education from the ongoing school fund — which has been going on for more than a decade — have progressed “for a very long time.”

“If we had done this 20 years ago, we would have been in the top 10, 15 states, I believe, in terms of educational outcomes,” he said in an interview. “You start earlier with kids and their families, the whole family structure is improved, and they do better in school.”

Some lawmakers and economists note that the amendment would mean less money in the long run — potentially 20 years from now — than if the distribution rate were left at 5%.

Others argued that the amendment is not needed, as state legislators have made significant investments in early childhood education in recent years.

That includes a dedicated trust fund that an Early Childhood Education and Care Department spokesman said was currently under $2 billion, and this year saw the distribution of about $30 million.

Angela Amaya, 10, met with Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham at the event gathering support for a constitutional amendment that would provide more funding for early childhood education in the Albuquerque Valley on Wednesday. (Chancey Bush/Albuquerque Journal)

On the state of the economic laws the Committee also previously discussed among the declining birth rates, the primary education services and the competition between the providers spread, the funding went unusual in some cases.

According to LFC’s report from August, that includes pre-kindergarten services and a statewide Start program. That program provides comprehensive early education, nutrition and other health care services to families at or below the poverty line, and is largely federally funded.

But more money is needed for early childhood education and services, said Early Childhood Secretary Elizabeth Groginsky, because services currently do not match the needs or the quality needed for New Mexico families.

While some school districts are overwhelmed with providers, some are far below where they need to be, Groginsky said, pointing out that the department only meets about 10% of the needs of families who want or require home visits.

“For decades, for generations – and not just in New Mexico, across the country,” he said, adding that the amendment would “provide stable and predictable funding.”

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