The House Appropriations Committee today endorsed House Joint Resolution 13 to send to the voters the issue of using 1% of the Land Grant Permanent Fund yearly for early childhood education services, provided by public schools, state contractors, pueblos and other entities. The vote was 10 to 8 with all Democrats voting yes and all Republicans no.
The resolution now goes to the House floor for a vote of the entire House. A similar measure in the Senate is awaiting a hearing before the Senate Finance Committee, the last committee before a Senate floor vote. The 60-day legislative session ends at noon March 16.
The amendment provides $115 million a year for early childhood services from the $11.5 billion Land Grant Permanent Fund. The amendment keeps K-12 public education receiving 5.5% of the fund each year. That percentage is scheduled to go down to 5% otherwise.
"We are asking you to invest in human capital instead of investing in the stock market," said Rep. Moe Maestas of Albuquerque, the bill's sponsor. "Early childhood is grossly underfunded and it will yield extraordinary returns on investment."
Maestas noted the bill had been amended to call for stopping the additional spending from the fund if its value dropped to $10 billion. (Previously, the bill had set $8 billion as the trigger for ending the added payouts.) Maestas said $10 billion was "more prudent." Rep. Donald Tripp of Socorro was concerned that the fund could be allowed to drop so low before curtailing payouts. He suggested the limit be indexed to rise each year. Maestas agreed that would be reasonable.
Use of private contractors for early childhood services was discussed.
David Buchholtz, a lawyer retained by St. Joseph Community Health, said, "The model being used here is modeled directly on the NM PreK Act, where money goes to different departments, which will then contract for services." Under the PreK Act, half of the money goes to the Public Education Department (PED) for PreK services and half to the Children, Youth and Families Department (CYFD) to contract for services.
NM Attorney General Gary King said it is necessary both for voters to pass the constitutional amendment and for Congress to amend the Enabling Act of 1910 by which NM became a state and by which the fund was created. He said it is not critical which action comes first. King also agreed with Buchholtz that money from the Permanent Fund would be available for the state to contract for early childhood services given the wording of the amendment now. It makes it clear money is available for the legislature to appropriate to PED and CYFD to contract for services, he said.
When Rep. Larry Larrañaga said that unless the state was creating a new beneficiary for the Land Grant fund, money could not go to CYFD.
Buchholtz answered that money can go for nonsectarian early childhood services administered by the state, as the amendment says, which would include CYFD. Supporters of the amendment noted they were not creating any new beneficiaries but merely redefining the "common schools" beneficiary -- which gets 83% of the proceeds of the fund each year -- to include early childhood education.
"I think even though as a legislator I was reluctant to spend money out of the Permanent Fund for just any purpose, this is the most important purpose that you could spend this money for," King said. "The investment in our children will pay great dividends for the state into the future and for the economic future of the state."
Larrañaga said it is a dangerous precedent to set to tap into the Land Grant fund for additional uses. "Other requests will come to tap into the fund." He is a great supporter of early childhood and wants the state to make tough decisions to redirect general funds to support it.
Even with the additional money being taken out of the fund, it will still double by 2031, said Miguel Gomez, of St. Joseph Community Health. "This investment in early childhood is the best investment the state can make," he said, noting that studies show the return on investment in a child's early education is 7% to 10% every year for the life of the child. Even in the past six years, during the worst recession since the Great Depression, the Land Grant Permanent Fund has continued to grow, he said.
Allen Sanchez, CEO and president of St. Joseph Community Health, noted that St. Joseph is operating the largest home visiting program in the state (and soon the country) but that it would not be using any of this public money.
He talked about young children being like clay being formed for a pot. Unfortunately, the just forming pots are getting holes poked in them by adverse childhood experiences that lead to school dropouts and juvenile delinquency. "Problems will continue to grow," Sanchez said. "The need is going to outpace the growth of the fund."
The total unmet need for early childhood services is $272 million a year, he said. "A little bit of money is not going to solve this."
Rep. Lucky Varela of Santa Fe was concerned about how to evaluate whether early childhood programs were accomplishing what they set out to do. Buchholtz said the amendment is not "self-enacting," but that the legislature can pass laws about what accountability is required.
A Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce spokeswoman said the chamber is opposed to taking more money from the fund in part because the fund oould be depleted if revenues don't live up to expectations and in part because the last time voters approved taking more money from the fund in 2003 for three-tiered licensure in public schools the expenditure did not lead to better outcomes for students.
"This is an investment in kids, in human capital," said Rep. Christine Trujillo of Albuquerque. "We have got to put our money where our mouth is. We can talk about how important children are and do absolutely nothing. ... I really, really support this piece of legislation." She spoke about the difference in how better prepared children were for school in a more affluent school she taught at -- where children had been in early childhood programs almost since they were born -- than in a poorer neighborhood where she taught and children hadn't had those opportunities. "I'm about everyone having an opportunity to succeed."
Rep. Elizabeth Thomson of Albuquerque said she is passionate about the issue, too. She had worked for many years at the Pueblo of Laguna as an early interventionist and in schools, and she is a mother of a child with developmental disabilities. "Early intervention works -- period." She said anyone could come off the street and go into the schools where she worked and tell which children had benefited from early intervention and which ones hadn't. "It's a no-brainer."
NM Association for the Education of Young Children