Tapping Permanent Fund invests in kids’, NM’s future

In this year’s legislative session, New Mexico faces an important choice concerning the future of its children and how our state defines education. The Permanent Fund for Early Childhood legislation – House Joint Resolution 1 – sponsored by Reps. Moe Maestas, Javier Martinez, Liz Thomson and Georgene Louis, all D-Albuquerque, and Sen. Pete Campos, D-Las Vegas, aims to increase the resources available for early childhood care and education services throughout the state.

Early childhood development, as we know from top experts and studies, is the foundation of lifelong learning, and the first five years is the most critical and rapid period of human development, in addition to a child’s identification to language and culture. Children that enter school with strong language and early math skills, and a positive sense of self-identity, tend to excel in school and life. For too long, many of New Mexico’s youngest residents have lacked access to healthy, safe and quality early childhood educational opportunities. Passage of HJR 1 is an important step in filling this unmet need by securing additional educational funds, including funds to support these vital services to our youngest children.

HJR 1, if passed, will require approval by New Mexican voters, as it would amend our state Constitution to increase funds for K-12 education and, importantly, focus educational investments in the early childhood years for the first time. As a constitutional amendment, HJR 1 would take 1% of the state’s Land Grant Permanent Fund each year for this purpose, with financial safeguards in place to protect the fund. After years of attempting to find a steady and secure source of funds, it’s time to make a permanent and sustainable investment in our youngest residents.

By ensuring all New Mexico families have access to the critical early childhood programs and services for their children beginning at birth, the proposal goes a long way to advance the need for more equity across our state. Furthermore, the better outcomes that follow these investments will likely yield significant societal savings in the years ahead as we see higher graduation rates, fewer teen pregnancies, lower health care costs and incarceration rates. It’s no surprise this idea enjoys such strong public support. According to a 2021 New Mexico Early Childhood Statewide Survey, commissioned by CHI St. Joseph’s Children, 75% of voters support using 1% of the LGPF each year to provide more funds for early childhood programs.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and the New Mexico Legislature created the Early Childhood Education and Care Department in 2019 to strengthen and coordinate early childhood services previously spread across several state agencies. Funds from the LGPF will help increase access to and the quality of these early childhood programs for children prior to their entrance into kindergarten. We must act with urgency. For far too long communities across New Mexico have lacked access to culturally and linguistically responsive early childhood education services that support the development, education and well-being of young children, our most precious resource.

Upon enaction and subsequent approval by the voters, HJR 1 will help ensure we expand and maintain vital programs for our children. The governor has made universal access to pre-kindergarten a priority – an additional $100 million needed annually, proposed an expansion of the home visiting program – at least an additional $26 million annually for the next three years, and deemed investments in advancing a diverse, well-compensated and credentialed early childhood workforce essential – at least $50 million annually. Funds from the LGPF would be used to fund these proposals and others, such as increasing access to high-quality early care and education for infants, toddlers and preschool age children, expanding access to family services/supports, and ensuring accountability and evaluation of programs.

HJR 1 is an important first step in addressing historic inequities and will dramatically enhance early intervention, care and education – New Mexico’s best tools to address social and economic inequality, and generational poverty. The longer-term impacts of this investments are reciprocal and mutually beneficial, as building strong families helps build strong communities, and strong communities support all families.

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