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Governor signs measure to create early childhood fund


River Mora, 2, being held by his mother, Kristin Mora, plays with Bettie Petersen, left, of the New Mexico School for the Deaf, behind Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham on Tuesday during a ceremony to sign a bill creating an early childhood trust fund. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed legislation Tuesday that establishes a trust fund to help pay for expanded prekindergarten and other early childhood programs.

It will operate like an endowment – a strategy intended to provide a stable source of funding to support New Mexico’s increasing investment in home visiting programs for new parents, pre-K and similar services that prepare children for school.

A portion of the state’s oil-fueled revenue boom would flow into the fund, with the hope that it will eventually reach $1 billion, large enough to disburse perhaps $40 million to $50 million a year.

Legislators are considering separate legislation – part of the main budget bill – to inject $320 million into the fund next year.

Lujan Grisham described the legislation, House Bill 83, as a breakthrough in efforts to expand funding for early childhood education.

“It is not business as usual in the Legislature,” she said. “This is creative problem-solving.”

The proposal for a trust fund emerged after years of attempts at Senate approval for a constitutional amendment that would allow New Mexico to tap more heavily into its Land Grant Permanent Fund as a source of early childhood funding.

The proposed constitutional amendment, meanwhile, is still alive this session, although its future is uncertain. The legislation, House Joint Resolution 1, is awaiting action by the Senate Finance Committee.

The trust fund, in any case, is meant to complement the constitutional proposal, not necessarily replace it, supporters say.

The early childhood trust fund picked up bipartisan support this session, even from lawmakers who oppose the constitutional amendment.

For example, Sen. John Arthur Smith, a Deming Democrat and chairman of the powerful Senate Finance Committee, said the trust fund idea is a sound way to expand New Mexico’s early childhood spending. He has opposed the constitutional amendment.

“We’re going to make it work,” he said of the new trust fund.

Lujan Grisham signed the bill Tuesday, surrounded by parents and legislators. The legislation was co-sponsored by Smith and House Majority Whip Doreen Gallegos, D-Las Cruces.

“The children of New Mexico deserve a trust fund,” Gallegos said.

Under the legislation, energy-related tax revenue – if it climbs high enough, creating a surplus – will flow into the new fund.

Even without the trust fund, New Mexico has been ramping up spending on early childhood, to more than $500 million in the current fiscal year.

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