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Amendment Would Boost Early Childhood Education

SANTA FE – Supporters of a constitutional amendment that would provide new early childhood education funding by tapping into the state’s Land Grant Permanent fund laid out their case at the Capitol on Thursday.

The proposal from Democratic leaders would take about $150 million from the state’s Land Grant Permanent Fund for new pre-kindergarten programs by increasing the fund’s annual distribution rate from 5.5 percent to 7 percent. The move would require voter approval.

“This funding will put children on the path to success and that will provide me, as well as every other business out there, with a pool of talent in the future,” said Victor Limary, owner of Talin Market in Albuquerque.

The effort is backed by Invest in Kids Now, a coalition of businesses, child advocates, educators and religious groups. Spearheading the group is St. Joseph Community Health, a nonprofit Albuquerque foundation that offers early childhood education programs such as in-home visits with new parents, child care and pre-kindergarten classes in Albuquerque.

St. Joseph Community Health CEO Allen Sanchez said the permanent fund distribution can be increased for early childhood education programs without affecting the $11.45 billion fund’s principal balance. The Land Grant Permanent Fund is estimated to grow about 11 percent per year thanks to oil and gas royalties, land sales and investment income.

“The fund will grow by a little less, but that investment is worth it,” Sanchez said.

But opponents, including the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce and the New Mexico Business Roundtable, are concerned that increasing the permanent fund distribution for early childhood education would put the fund on an unhealthy track.

“The actuaries will tell you that you can’t distribute more than 5 percent and keep the fund whole with regard to its purchasing power,” said House Minority Leader Donald Bratton, of Hobbs. “The objective is to make sure it’s there for future generations and we only take our proportionate share.”

House Republicans support early childhood education programs to improve the state’s education system, but say the Legislature should find new taxes or other ways to pay for it without drawing down the permanent fund, Bratton said.

“Raiding the permanent fund is not the solution,” he said.

Patrick Themig, a retired PNM vice president, on Thursday said the permanent fund can bear the increased distribution rate to improve education in New Mexico.

“Our state permanent funds are enjoying historic gains, yet our children are falling further and further behind. This is wrong,” Themig said. “There are those who say permanent funds must be saved for the future, but what we’re talking about is the future, investing in the future.”
— This article appeared on page A6 of the Albuquerque Journal