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Supporters try again for early childhood amendment

SANTA FE — Hundreds of children, parents and other supporters of early-childhood programs filled the Roundhouse on Thursday to make their pitch for tapping into New Mexico’s land grant permanent fund.

They are backing a constitutional amendment that would providing about $150 million a year, mostly for prekindergarten, home-visiting programs and other early childhood services.

The money would be available by increasing the annual distribution from the land grant permanent fund by 1 percentage point, from 5 percent to 6 percent.

But the measure has repeatedly run aground in the Senate. It narrowly cleared the House last year and was rejected on a 6-5 vote in the Senate Rules Committee — where Republicans and conservative Democrats said diverting more money would damage the health of a fund that already provides hundreds of millions of dollars for education and other state services.

None of that dampened the enthusiasm of the crowd Thursday. Children in cowboy hats raised their right hand so they could be sworn in as the “pre-K gang,” promising to study hard and change New Mexico for the better.

Allen Sánchez, president of the nonprofit group CHI St. Joseph’s Children, predicted the measure will clear the House quickly and move over to the Senate again this session.

“Our statistics are getting worse, and the fund is getting bigger,” he said.

New Mexico leads the nation with the most children under age 5 living in poverty — 36.2 percent, according to U.S. Census Bureau data released last year.