This is in response to the Albuquerque Journal’s Feb. 26 editorial regarding the state’s Land Grant Permanent Fund (LGPF). The editorial criticizes the New Mexico Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (NMCCB) support for funding early childhood education through the LGPF and the observation that there might be an element of institutional racism. At the same time, the Albuquerque Journal concedes a significant achievement gap exists. A racial element is that 80 percent of New Mexico’s children are children of color who would benefit greatly from the programs offered through the Early Childhood Amendment, House Joint Resolution 1.
When you look at the evidence, it is alarming. According to Kids Count, the data on fourth-graders who scored below a proficient reading level shows Native children at 90 percent, Hispanic at 83 percent, African American at 76 percent and White at 61 percent.
The Journal asks where the evidence is; yet on multiple occasions, it has cited evidence that early childhood education improves child well-being and breaks the cycle of poverty. Quoting the Legislative Finance Committee’s (LFC) Early Childhood Accountability Report: “The LFC has consistently found pre-kindergarten programs improve math and reading proficiencies for low-income four-year-olds as well as lowering special education and retention rates. LFC has also found pre-kindergarten programs deliver a positive return on investment for New Mexico taxpayers based on improvement in test scores.”
The Journal asks where the plan is, yet since 2012, every New Mexico legislator has seen the blueprint of the proposed plan found at www.investinkidsnow.org. The research we provided was also referenced in the House of Representatives’ recent February debate.
Constitutional Amendments are introduced as Joint Resolutions. They do not appropriate money, nor specify how existing programs will be funded. Funds are managed by state legislators through enabling legislation. The same legislative process is followed when appropriations for highways are made; it is illegal to name specific contractors.
One of our highest priorities is the well-being of children, which is why the NMCCB continues to support HJR1. The Journal’s top priority appears to be the Land Grant Permanent Fund’s size in the future.
According to HJR1’s Fiscal Impact Report, the fund will be at a record high $28.68 billion by 2030, even after the proposed increased early childhood appropriation. In 25 years, with the extra distribution to early childhood, the 5 percent distribution for K-12 would be approximately $1.4 billion per year, more than twice the current distribution. The proposal is prudent.
In addition, the state would be achieving 7 percent to 13 percent returns on its investment; e.g. increased tax revenue and lower incarcerations. Independent research says funding early childhood education saves money in the K-12 system because of subsequent benefits in cognition, academic achievements and behavioral and emotional competencies. We will experience reductions in child maltreatment, delinquency and crime and social welfare program use. And beyond K-12, we will have an increased number of employable New Mexicans.
We understand that, because of his childhood experiences, Senate Finance Committee Chairman John Arthur Smith, as quoted in a Searchlight New Mexico piece in the Feb. 18 Las Cruces Sun-News, “plans for the worst.” However, today, one third of our children live in poverty and are experiencing the worst right now.
The Legislature did not reject the resolution; it failed to reach the floor because of the unilateral decision of this one person. The House of Representatives had the opportunity to debate its merits numerous times and passed the resolution. The resolution should be sent to the whole Senate for a review by all senators, hearing the public’s input and the debate of the facts.
After eight years, the opposition has not brought forward a suitable alternative because there is not one that can generate revenue substantial enough to satisfy the unmet need.
Addressing inequities is our responsibility. As Pope Francis says, “Poverty in the world is a scandal in a world where there is so much wealth.”