Opinion: The Debate To Fund Early Childhood Programs From The Land Grant Permanent Fund Is More Viable Than Ever
From CHI St. Joseph’s Children
Santa Fe, N.M. ‒ In 2011 the early childhood movement began from a grassroots campaign to figure out how to help transform the education system in New Mexico. Eight years later and with activism of thousands of families, early childhood education has become one of the top policy priorities in the state. Garnering leadership from the House of Representatives, the Senate, our Congressional Delegation among many others we have made incredible progress. The debate is no longer if early childhood is important, but how programs are funded.
On Friday, over the course of an hour, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham presented and had a discussion with the Senate Finance Committee (SFC) members on funding early childhood programs from the Land Grant Permanent Fund. This was not a vote on legislation, but a conversation to renew dialogue with the ultimate goal of providing services for children across the state. This shows important progress because for several years the SFC has refused to hear a presentation or hold a vote on a constitutional amendment for early childhood. Below are the Governor’s summarizing remarks.
“Mr. Chairman, because we do not agree with many members, not all members, that the Permanent Fund should be an additional source of early childhood education [funding], I want to make the case for doing that and I want the opportunity to continue to make the case because I think it is part of an investment strategy. Thank you for allowing me to do that today.
I also appreciate that during this committee time we have identified that early childhood education is a priority. That every single member appears to be dedicated to getting, whether I convince you it’s $285 million or some other number, that we know that 12,000 kiddos [out of 50,000] is not enough children to be serving in a state and we have to build an infrastructure.
Anyone who cares about an issue, including everyone behind me, who have been fighting for decades to get our educational system right and to make sure that child well-being in its broadest context including education, is the thing we ought to be fighting for in this state. I thank them for being here, I thank them for negotiating on any number of issues. It has been kind of you to thank me, I need now to return the favor [to] the leadership that has been displayed today and during this 60-day session by the men and women. When you are visiting an at-risk family, it is very difficult to set your emotions aside […] you cannot set that aside, you are not doing your job if you are not emotionally impacted by what you see and deal with every single day. So, to the degree that these folks have been wearing their hearts on their shirtsleeves, I have no doubt that they will continue to do that. I also have no doubt that they will continue to fight for a permanent, serious funding solution that we have available to us.
But know this, I will continue to develop a relationship between your leadership, Sir and this committee. I will do every bit of diligent work for options that get us over the finish line earlier rather than later. I will provide the kind of accountability through the leadership that is represented in our cabinet to give you the details and the outcomes that you deserve in order to meet the needs of these families and children [and to also] continue your role as the fiduciary to the tax payers and the individuals that you serve.
And if you will commit, Sir, – and I think you will – I would not say it to put you on the spot, that is not my intention here this morning. (Sen. Smith) ‘I’ve been there before.’ I know you have, and I know I can do that, but that is not what I’m choosing to do on this fine Friday. In the interim, I need you, I need bold leadership to identify every single strategy that shows we can do this, maybe even earlier than the five years, I don’t know that I can, [but] I want to have a conversation as if that is our intention. That I don’t have to choose which kids, in which communities. So that these advocates don’t have to tell one family yes and another family no. That we set aside, forever, that this is a state that will tolerate the kind of poverty and achievement gaps that our children and families face. That this is the state that will get it right and provide every single opportunity to all our children and grandchildren. Mr. Chairman I thank you for giving me this opportunity and for committing that we can work this out. I have no doubt with the kind of brain power in this room here today [that we can do this].”
As we mark the end of the legislative session, we are in a victorious position. Because of good work, incredible organizing and constant advocacy we have the most powerful voice in the state, the Governor, committed and ready to join the fight to ensure more children have access to quality early childhood programs. We are proud of a job well done. We will keep you posted as progress evolves during the interim.