Now is the time to invest in early childhood education

Our proposed constitutional amendment to invest an additional amount from the land grant permanent fund, also know as the permanent school fund, for a quality, early education system is a vetted, evidence-based proposal targeted at New Mexico’s crisis in child well-being. Our initiative will help lift people out of poverty, create jobs, combat crime and position New Mexicans to successfully compete in the 21st-century economy.

In an editorial published on Jan. 2, the Journal states a number of fallacies that merit our response. The Journal claims that there’s no plan for the requested investment. Renowned early education expert, Katherine Kinney, wrote a report for state legislators in 2012 in which she detailed how the funding should be used. The report can be found at www.investinkidsnow.org.

In short, we recommend significant expansion of home visitation programs throughout New Mexico. We recommend expansion of quality child care and pre-kindergarten services for all children. Furthermore, through increased funding, we can grow and improve the quality of early education centers, and provide higher pay for early education professionals.

The Journal also claims that there aren’t any accountability measures in our proposal. A constitutional amendment can contain language relevant only to the question at hand: Should we invest an additional 1.5 percent from the fund in early education?

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Accountability is the cornerstone of this proposal. If voters approve the constitutional amendment, lawmakers will write enabling legislation detailing strict accountability measures. No disbursement can be made until the enabling legislation is enacted.

Another claim made is that additional investments will risk insolvency of the fund. Independent financial analyses show that the fund will continue to grow.

According to one recent study from Advantage Business Consulting, the year-end value of the fund will grow to $22.8 billion by the year 2026, even after the additional investment is made. There is also an automatic shut-off provision in our proposal in the highly unlikely event that the $15 billion fund drops below $10 billion.

Yet another fallacy is citing Wyoming’s disbursement rate at 5 percent. What the Journal didn’t explain is that Wyoming spends half of its land grant revenues before the money is deposited into its permanent fund. Wyoming effectively distributes more of its permanent fund than we would under our proposal and yet there’s no risk of insolvency with their fund.

Its founders envisioned that the land grant permanent fund would be used for public education. Our proposal is clearly consistent with that vision. As our understanding of the merits of early education has increased, we now know that a child’s education begins the day that child is born.

We cannot afford to lose another generation of children to poverty and crime. With an early education system that’s underfunded by more than $250 million, our proposal is the closest we can get to an adequately funded system.

Unfortunately, there are no other viable funding sources unless we significantly raise taxes.

What good is a “sovereign wealth fund” if it’s not adequately invested? Should we continue to invest exclusively in Wall Street, or should we invest a small percent of our fund in early childhood education, which yields returns of 9 percent to 13 percent? An investment in New Mexico’s children is an investment in the job creators of tomorrow.

New Mexicans are tired of politics as usual, and want solutions to our state’s generational poverty and the social ills that it breeds. This is one such solution. Enough is enough. The time is now.

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