Officials push early childhood spending

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — State lawmakers, community activists and Congresswoman Michelle Lujan Grisham called for increased investment in early childhood education at an event Tuesday morning.

The event was held Downtown at St. Joseph Community Health, and numerous families who use St. Joseph services were invited. Dozens of babies were in attendance, which meant speakers had to raise their voices over a constant low babble of baby sounds. See to the right: Babies.

The event was prompted by recent news that New Mexico has dropped to the bottom in national rankings of child well-being. Speakers touched on various policy areas at different levels of government, all related to children.

Lujan Grisham spoke about her opposition to proposed cuts to the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, better known as food stamps. “We can do all the early childhood education, but if we have hungry kids, they can’t learn,” she said.

Adrian Pedroza, a local activist and member of President Barack Obama’s advisory commission on educational excellence for Hispanics, spoke about Obama’s proposal to increase preschool funding nationwide. Specifically, Obama’s budget proposal includes $75 billion in early childhood education spending over 10 years. In the first year of that proposed program, New Mexico would receive $24.5 million in federal funding for preschool, and would be asked to provide a 10 percent match of $2.4 million.

The  third speaker was Allen Sanchez, president and chief executive of St. Joseph. He called for New Mexico to tap its land grant permanent fund to to increase investment in early education programs. This issue was debated during the most recent legislative session, and was passed by the House. It never received a hearing the Senate finance committee. Here’s a little background.

“In New Mexico, there’s something that we’re not last in. We have the second largest land grant permanent fund in the nation. We’ve got a big pile of money in this state,” Sanchez said Tuesday. “Ethically, it is wrong for us to be ranking 50th on one side, and second in the largest permanent fund in the nation.”

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