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Early education proposal has support of union

Randi Weingarten, American Federation of Teachers President, speaks  during the MLK Community Day of Action for Education rally in the rotunda of the State Capitol on Monday, January 20, 2014. (Greg Sorber/Albuquerque Journal)
Randi Weingarten, American Federation of Teachers President, speaks during the MLK Community Day of Action for Education rally in the rotunda of the State Capitol on Monday, January 20, 2014. (Greg Sorber/Albuquerque Journal)
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Marisa Poleviyaoma, President of Zuni Federation of United School Employees, front center, cheers for Stephanie Ly, AFT New Mexico President, in Santa Fe. (Greg Sorber/Albuquerque Journal)

Marisa Poleviyaoma, President of Zuni Federation of United School Employees, front center, cheers for Stephanie Ly, AFT New Mexico President, in Santa Fe. (Greg Sorber/Albuquerque Journal)

The national president of a union representing about 23,000 teachers in New Mexico visited Albuquerque and Santa Fe Monday to advocate for early childhood education.

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, spent the morning at Parkside Child Development Center, an early childhood learning center in the South Valley, where she read to children and spoke with early childhood education advocates.

The advocates told Weingarten about efforts to pass a state constitutional amendment that would tap about $113 million annually from New Mexico’s $12 billion Land Grant Permanent Fund for early education programs.

Weingarten said the measure would be an important boost for early education in New Mexico. She added early childhood education is key to helping poor students succeed in school.

“What (early childhood education) does is it levels the playing field for poor kids,” Weingarten said.

Last year, the proposed constitutional amendment stalled in the Legislature, but supporters plan to push for the proposal again in the session that begins today.

As it stands, far too few of New Mexico’s children attend early learning programs, said Lindsay Theo, a local AFT organizer. Just 16 percent of 4-year-olds in New Mexico were enrolled in a pre-kindergarten program in the 2011-12 school year, Theo said, citing a study from the National Institute for Early Education Research.

Public Education chief Hanna Skandera said she doesn’t support the constitutional amendment. Skandera supports increased spending on early childhood education, but the permanent fund is the wrong funding source, she said.

“We don’t believe in raiding our children’s savings account,” Skandera said, referring to the permanent fund.

Other critics of the constitutional amendment have argued it would decrease the permanent fund’s value over time.

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