New Mexico Organizers Rally to Pass Historic Amendment Guaranteeing Right to Early Childhood Education

Organizers in New Mexico this week are making a final push to ensure the passage of Amendment 1, a ballot measure which would make the state the first in the nation to guarantee the constitutional right to early childhood education and would make signi…

Organizers in New Mexico this week are making a final push to ensure the passage of Amendment 1, a ballot measure which would make the state the first in the nation to guarantee the constitutional right to early childhood education and would make significant investments in childcare across the state.

Next Tuesday, voters will vote on the Funding for Early Childhood Programs Amendment, which would enable the state to withdraw funds annually from New Mexico's Land Grant Permanent Fund.

The sovereign wealth fund was established in 1912 and is financed by oil and gas revenue, with a current value of nearly $26 billion. Five percent of the fund is already withdrawn annually to help fund hospitals, public schools, and universities.

"Whether it's poverty, whether it's access to resources, even down the road, things like crime and homelessness—all of those challenges are predicated on early childhood development."

If Amendment 1 passes, the government would be authorized to annually withdraw an additional 1.25% of the fund's five-year average of year-end market values to support education, with roughly $150 million going to early childhood education programs.

If voters approve the amendment, lawmakers will determine how exactly the money will be spent each year, and organizers from groups including Olé New Mexico and the Vote Yes for Kids coalition are hoping the Legislature prioritizes increasing wages for childcare employees. Workers in the field earn as little as $11.50 per hour—the state's minimum wage—in New Mexico.

"We're in a situation where the market can't support the wages that attract the qualified professionals that we rely on to educate and nurture our children during their most important developmental years," Elizabeth Groginsky, who leads the state's Early Childhood Education and Care Department, set up by Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grishamin 2020, told the Albuquerque Journal last month.

As Common Dreams reported in May, Grisham used the state's Early Childhood Education and Care Fund—also established in 2020—to begin a pilot program making childcare free for about 30,000 low- and middle-income families across the state for more than a year. The fund used for the program is also financed from the state's oil and gas production, and is expected to be worth $4.3 billion by 2025.

For more than a decade, advocates in New Mexico have been pushing lawmakers to put a question to voters regarding whether the Land Grant Permanent Fund should partially be used to fund early childhood education and childcare.

According to Vox, conservative Democrats have long stood in the way, arguing that withdrawing more money from the fund will reduce opportunities for the state's investments to grow.

"Year after year, they either didn't give it a hearing or killed it in the Senate Finance Committee," Andrea Serrano, executive director of Olé, told Vox last month.

Recent polls suggest New Mexico voters are happy to have the question on the ballot this year, with 69% of respondents to an August poll saying they supported the amendment, including 70% of Independents and 56% of Republicans.

Another survey by Public Policy Polling last month found that 51% of voters were supportive of Amendment 1 while 26% were opposed.

The push for greater investment in young children's education and well-being comes nearly a year after the expanded child tax credit—which was credited with reducing childhood poverty by 30% and helping 35 million families pay for childcare, school expenses, and other essentials in 2021—expired due to right-wing U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin's (D-W.Va.) opposition.

Nearly $400 billion in childcare investments were also cut from the Inflation Reduction Act, which Manchin helped craft, before it passed in August.

On Wednesday, Grisham and organizers with Olé New Mexico and the Vote Yes for Kids coalition spoke to more than 100 people at a get-out-the-vote rally in Albuquerque about Amendment 1.

"It is the one thing we can do at the ballot box that will change, over time, everyone's lives," said Democratic Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller. "Whether it's poverty, whether it's access to resources, even down the road, things like crime and homelessness—all of those challenges are predicated on early childhood development."

"This is the single best investment that we can make in our entire state," he added.


This content originally appeared on Common Dreams - Breaking News & Views for the Progressive Community and was authored by Julia Conley.


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