Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Is It Different This Time? Early Childhood Begins Legislative Journey Amid Renewed Calls For Action, And: A Senate Sellout Or Not? 

Is it different this time? It is, although the results may not change for another year or two.

Monday the House Education Committee again approved a constitutional amendment to fund very early childhood education (ages 0-5) from the giant $17.29 billion Land Grant Permanent Fund (LGPF). Like last year, the full House is again expect to approve the proposal sponsored by ABQ Dem Reps. Javier Martinez and Moe Maestas and send it to the senate. There, like last year, the odds are high it will be killed by Republicans in a coalition with conservative Democrats. So what's different?

Well, the state will be getting a new Governor next year and leading Democratic candidate Michelle Lujan Grisham just reiterated her support for using a portion of the LGPF for early childhood education. Dem candidates Joe Cervantes and Peter DeBenedettis also say the time has come. And Senator Martin Heinrich has again weighed in with his support.

From Rep. Lujan Grisham:

Without a good foundation in early childhood education, we don't have a good foundation for our state's future. I support @InvestinkidsNow and all the work they do with The 1,000 Kid March.

Heinrich made his statement on the opening day of the Legislature in response to NM again ranking 49th in the nation in the yearly child well-being report from Kids Count:

It is clear that bold action is needed to invest in early childhood education and take a two-generation approach to increase opportunities for families in the state. Our state has an opportunity to advance forward looking policies designed to make more substantial progress and improve our current trajectory. It is long past time to put our Permanent Fund to work for early childhood education and ensure children have the resources they need to succeed.


Then there is the "tidal wave" of journalism decrying and exploring why the state is last or near last in the nation in all early childhood indicators, including poverty and trauma.

Searchlight NM, a new nonprofit journalism group, has launched a series of hard-hitting reports--"Raising New Mexico"--timed for the legislative session on why these shameful state rankings persist and explore solutions:

For nearly 30 years, we as a state have passed laws, convened task forces, wrung our hands, tried countless education reform strategies, expanded Medicaid and invested millions in a system of early childhood care and education systems. Why, then, has so little changed? Addressing our problems will without question require massive investment. Failure to do so will cost the state far more. Every one of us is affected when child well-being is compromised. The economic, educational and social ramifications radiate throughout society; the lives of other people’s children touch all of us. There is no hiding. 

Also weighing in this week is longtime ABQ Journal politics editor John Robertson, also a veteran legislative reporter now retired. He cited the "tidal wave" of journalism in explaining why he now favors putting the LGPF to work for early childhood ed:

Permanent fund protectors like former ABQ GOP State Rep. Bob Grant and Rep. John Bigbee were two of my favorite and most-trusted lawmakers but I think this answer is staring us in the face. Can't Sen. John Arthur Smith (chairman of the Senate Finance Committee), the State Investment Council and others figure out a safe, additional yield plan from a $17 billion investment fund? New Mexico’s combined “sovereign wealth” funds (over $22 billion) are among the largest such government funds in the world. 

Yes, they already produce hundreds of millions a year for our General Fund but we also remain among the “poorest” of states with deep problems we accept as “perennial.” You might say it is exactly because we are among the “poorest” that we need to maintain the big investment funds to produce income that personal and corporate income taxes don’t provide. But why, then, have we persisted in cutting those taxes? Something seems wrong with this picture.

Advocacy journalism captures the frustration and yes, the embarrassment and shame, that now permeate the state over the state of its children. We sense that mood is not just seeping into the Roundhouse and gubernatorial campaign but a flood is building.

Also helping provide momentum for the amendment, which would have to be approved by voters, is simply the gargantuan size of the LGPF--over $17 billion in a state languishing in poverty and dysfunction. That, as we have recently written, has become not just a political and policy question but a moral question. Putting to work one percent of the fund each year for ten years--currently about $172 million ($150 million for early childhood and the rest for university funding)--seems conservative not risky or "liberal" when juxtaposed against the horrible rankings the youngest among us endure year after year.

And that's what's different this time.


Some in the left-wing of the Democratic base thought it was a sellout but the deal to reopen the federal government seemed like a pragmatic compromise for NM Senators Udall and Heinrich who represent tens of thousands of federal employees and military personnel in a state known for its heavy dependence on federal funding. Both senators have fought consistently for immigration reform and the agreement that reopens the government includes giving the Dreamer legislation a vote. Is that so bad? Readers had a pretty spirited discussion about it which you can check out on our Facebook page.

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