Constitutional amendment asks voters to invest in early childhood education

Land Grant Permanent Fund. Image from Independent Petroleum Association of New Mexico.

By Bradley Eversgerd

Contentious races for governor and Congress have gotten a majority of the attention this general election but voters are also being asked to approve a change to the way New Mexico’s education is funded. 

Constitutional Amendment 1 would increase the amount of money withdrawn from the state’s Land Grant Permanent Fund and shift some of the funding specifically to early childhood education. 

Right now, 5% of the interest earned from the Land Grant Permanent fund is used for public education, hospitals and other beneficiaries. The proposal would increase that by 1.25%, for total of 6.25% taken from the fund. 

Supporters say the money is urgently needed. New Mexico is regularly ranked last or next-to-last in a state-to-state comparison of education by The Annie E. Casey Foundation, a charitable organization that focuses on improving the well-being of American children. 

Photo by Yenny Cordova.

The Land Grant Permanent Fund was established in 1912 when New Mexico became the 47th state. The trust has grown over time due to revenue from royalties produced by non-renewable natural resources, mainly gas and oil.

Supporters say the state has a unique opportunity to provide a permanent stream of funding for early childhood education without having to raise taxes. They point to research showing that pre-kindergarten programs for children 5 and under pay off with higher high school graduation rates and fewer incarcerations. 

Opponents say more money isn’t the solution to New Mexico’s poor education results. 

Hobbs Republican State Sen. Gay Kernan, who is an educator, voted against the proposal when it was in the state Legislature. She said she fears increasing the draw by 1.5% is dangerous because instead of just drawing money from the interest on the fund’s assets, the increase will eat into the assets. “Eventually you’re not able to generate enough money, to meet your basic obligations,” Kernan said.

Childhood Education. Photo by Yenny Cordova

The bulk of the money that goes into the Permanent Fund comes from royalties and fees paid by the oil and gas industry. Although production is high now, leading to record high revenue for the state, that won’t always be the case and taking too much money now is too risky, Kernan said.

The proposal does have an emergency brake, though. If the Permanent Fund were to fall below $17 billion, distributions would stop. 

But state Sen. Pete Campos, a Democrat from Santa Rosa, says current funding isn’t enough to meet the needs of New Mexico children.

“I often hear, part of the concern is the amount that will be appropriated if the constitutional amendment passes would not be going to the general fund and in lean years leave us with fewer revenues to address state needs,” said Sen. Campos. To the contrary, when education and social development happens at the earliest time in life our youth learn more. Then eventually contribute to a healthy economy which in turn bolsters a strong state budget!

Luis David at early start using blocks and toys. Photo by Yenny Cordova.

The measure is on the ballot as “New Mexico Constitutional Amendment 1: Proposing an amendment to Article 12, Section 7 of the constitution of New Mexico to provide for additional annual distributions of the permanent school fund for enhanced instruction for students at risk of failure, extending the school year, teacher compensation and early childhood education; Requiring congressional approval for distributions for early childhood education.” 

A “yes” vote means you support increasing the amount of money taken from the Land Grant Permanent Fund. A “no” vote means you do not support the increased draws.