Senate committee approves early childhood education proposal

Robert Nott, The Santa Fe New Mexican
·2 min read

Mar. 5—A longtime push to boost early childhood programs with funding from the state's multibillion-dollar Land Grant Permanent Fund got one step closer to its first vote on the Senate floor Friday after years of stalling in Senate committees.

Following a brief discussion, the Senate Rules Committee approved House Joint Resolution 1, which asks voters to approve a constitutional amendment allowing a 1 percent annual draw from the endowment to pay for services for New Mexico's youngest children.

Seven Democrats voted for the resolution, while four Republicans opposed it.

"A surprise vote," said Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, the committee chairman.

HJR 1 next faces what is likely to be its toughest hurdle: the Senate Finance Committee. In past years, conservative Democrats on the panel have blocked similar initiatives. But some of them have been voted out of office, leaving a more progressive panel that appears open to passing the measure.

But they have a condition. Several Democrats on the Senate Finance Committee, including Chairman George Muñoz, D-Gallup, have said they would support the proposal only if it included another withdrawal for K-12 public schools, which already benefit from the endowment.

The resolution's sponsors said they aren't ready to make that commitment.

The Land Grant Permanent Fund, which draws investment revenue as well as fees for oil and gas drilling and other uses of state trust lands, sends hundreds of millions of dollars annually to public schools, universities and other beneficiaries across New Mexico.

It is now valued at $22 billion — meaning a new draw of 1 percent of the fund's average year-end balance over five years would generate at least $170 million a year for prekindergarten and other programs.

Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, asked the sponsors of HJR 1, Democratic Reps. Antonio "Moe" Maestas and Javier Martinez of Albuquerque, if they would be open to an amendment that includes funding for K-12 schools.

The answer, for now, is no, Maestas said.

After the hearing, Maestas said in an interview it's possible the sponsors will face similar questions from the Finance Committee. But, he said, he doesn't want to see K-12 funding included at the "expense of the 1 percent" for early childhood programs.

Martinez agreed, saying Friday's vote was "very reassuring," but "we've been very adamant that 1 percent is for early childhood programs — that's what the bill is about."

Still, Maestas said he is confident the bill will make its way to the Senate floor for a final vote. The House has cleared the measure, which Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said she supports.

Ivey-Soto didn't sound so sure.

"Good luck in that Senate Finance Committee," he told the sponsors in deadpan style.