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Governor highlights education initiatives at ABQ town hall

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham took questions from an audience of hundreds of parents, teachers and others Wednesday night as she pushed for an ambitious new college scholarship program and other education initiatives.

The first-term Democrat delivered her pitch during a town hall meeting in Albuquerque, joined by her department heads for public education, higher education and early childhood education and care.

In opening remarks, Lujan Grisham described her proposal to establish a new endowment fund for early childhood programs as a prudent way to expand spending on prekindergarten and reach “universal pre-K” that prepares every child to start school.

She also pitched her plan for a new “Opportunity Scholarship” that would cover the cost of tuition for students at New Mexico colleges and universities.

“These are investments in the stability and future of the state,” Lujan Grisham said.

The ideas are subject to approval by state lawmakers – who will begin a 30-day legislative session next month. Democrats hold majorities in both chambers.

At Wednesday’s meeting, the governor served as her own moderator of sorts, taking questions and calling on her department heads to respond. She had plenty to say herself.

Sometimes she read questions submitted online. She also called on audience members.

At one point, the governor responded to a high school science teacher who said she was considering whether to leave the career – out of concern over student-teacher ratios and the broad spread in abilities of students.

“Don’t leave – we need you,” Lujan Grisham said. “We believe in you, and we know it’s hard.”

She turned to that theme repeatedly, saying she and her administration have deep respect for the difficult work of educators.

Lujan Grisham also took questions on the state’s reliance on oil and gas revenue, poverty and raising wages for child care workers. In all, she spent well over three hours onstage, wrapping up after 9:30 p.m.

The governor’s education push coincides with an oil boom that has propelled New Mexico’s government revenue to record highs, igniting debate over how to spend the windfall.

The state is also trying to revitalize public schools after a 2018 court ruling found New Mexico had failed to provide a sufficient education to every student.

Heading into the Jan. 21 legislative session, Lujan Grisham’s education priorities include:

• A new scholarship program aimed at covering the cost of tuition for in-state students enrolled at a public college or university. The plan is expected to cost $25 million to $35 million. The scholarship would be aimed at covering the remaining gap for students after other awards and scholarships – through the lottery program or other sources – are factored in.

• A new endowment fund that would help pay for early childhood education services. Lujan Grisham said she will propose $300 million to establish the fund. It would increase state spending on prekindergarten, home visiting programs for new parents and other early childhood services.

• Increased funding to help at-risk students and additional pay raises for educators in public schools.

Lujan Grisham’s remarks came during a meeting in Northeast Albuquerque, held at the school district’s Berna Facio Professional Development Complex. The audience of about 250 people included educators, parents, legislators, retirees and others.

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