No New Money for Education from Land Grant Fund

Sen. Padilla Reflects on Senate Joint Resolutions

Wesley Morton, T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood® Deputy Director, had the opportunity to interview Senator Michael Padilla.  Sen. Padilla sponsored two Senate Joint Resolutions regarding early childhood and young children in New Mexico.

The legislative session ended at noon on Thursday, Feb. 18.  As in previous years, no action was taken on the constitutional amendment (Senate Joint Resolution 2 - SJR 2), sponsored by Sen. Michael Padilla, to use 1.5% of the $15 billion land grant permanent fund per year for early childhood education services.  The legislation, which would place the issue on the ballot for voters to decide, did not make it to the Senate floor. 

Another joint resolution—Senate Joint Resolution 3 (SJR 3)—which proposed an amendment to increase the permanent fund distribution for public schools K-12 by eight-tenths of a percent faired better, though ultimately died in the House.  The bill, also sponsored by Sen. Michael Padilla, made it through the Senate Finance Committee and passed on the floor of the Senate with a 23-19 vote along party lines, but was not given a hearing in the House.

Speaking about his efforts to engage the Speaker of the House—Rep. Don Tripp—and get the legislation heard, Sen. Padilla said, “I literally waited at his parking space in the morning.  I sat on the sidewalk waiting for him to drive up so I could talk to him about the bill!”  Despite this effort and on-going appeals to Rep. Jason Harper—chairman for the House Ways and Means Committee—and despite support from New Mexico’s Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn, the bill was was not heard. 

Reflecting on SJR 3, Sen. Padilla said, “This was a unique year because the sunset for that funding was ending.”  This means, effectively, that public school programs K-12 will lose a half-percent or approximately $75 million in funding in the coming fiscal year. SJR 3 would have continued that half-percent and added three-tenths of a percent more.  Disappointed with the outcomes of both bills, Sen. Padilla nonetheless expressed plans to keep fighting for funding for public schools and for early learning services prenatal to 5 for all New Mexico’s young children. 

Referring to the amendment for early childhood education—SJR 2—the Senator remains hopeful in the long-term, “that measure is going to continue and I expect that it will pass eventually.”  He added, however, “until the legislature is composed of different leadership and individuals it won’t make it out of committee.” 

The Senator’s efforts to increase funding for early childhood education are part of a larger community coalition called "Invest in Kids Now!"  More than 1,000 members of the coalition—including many young children and families—gathered at the Roundhouse during the legislative session on February 10th to march for greater investment in early childhood education. 

1,000 Kid March at the Roundhouse

More than 1,000 New Mexicans—including many young children and families—gathered last Wednesday, February 10, at the Roundhouse to march for greater investment in early childhood education. 

Invest in Kids Now!” read the slogan on a sea of yellow umbrellas carried by the marchers.  Despite the clear skies and sunshine, the umbrellas were carried to send a message to state legislators.  “Today is a rainy day.  It’s pouring!”, said Allen Sanchez, CEO of Catholic Health Initiatives (CHI) of St. Joseph, “We are number one in the nation for children living in poverty.  We rank number three in hunger.  We are 49th in children’s well-being.  It is pouring.”  Sanchez was referring to data gathered annually by New Mexico Voices for Children and published in the Kids Count Databook.

The event was the annual 1,000 Kid March and was organized by a coalition of groups with a shared focus on promoting investment in high-quality early childhood education for all of New Mexico’s children.  Early Educators United, CHI St. Joseph’s Children, AFT New Mexico, Olé New Mexico, and Partnership for Community Action--among others—helped organize the event.

After marching as a group around the outside of the Roundhouse, marchers assembled in the Rotunda for a press conference.  Those in attendance heard from a variety of speakers about the critical importance of providing access to high-quality early learning programs for all of New Mexico’s young children.  While the state ranks at or near the bottom in key indicators of children’s well-being, speakers highlighted New Mexico's Land Grant Permanent Fund—the second highest fund of its kind in the country, currently worth $15 billion—as a way to address the huge need for investment in the early learning system. 

View of the Invest in Kids! press conference within the Roundhouse.

Rep. Antonio Maestas, Rep. Javier Martinez, and Sen. Michael Padilla all expressed their support for early childhood education and for legislation to get a constitutional amendment passed to use 1% ($150 million annually) of the land grant permanent fund for early childhood programs.  To the opponents of the constitutional amendment, Rep. Martinez said “if you are against using the fund, give me another idea, give me another option,” a sentiment echoed by Allen Sanchez and others throughout the press conference.

 Allen Sanchez of St. Joseph's CHI speaking within Roundhouse.

Soledad Rivera, a home visitor with CHI, shared her personal testimony and brought attention to the importance of home visiting programs in New Mexico.  Soledad said she connects with the young mothers that she works with, having once been in their shoes as a teen mother herself.  “I know what it is to experience the fear, the uncertainty of what to do as a new mother, and what happens next.”  Soledad shared that she is a survivor of domestic violence.  Due to these traumatic experiences raising her own children she feels motivated to serve young parents and give them the resources they need to be successful.  She said home visiting provides the support and gives parents the confidence they need to make good choices for their families and children.

Mary Cathryn Ricker, Executive Vice President of the national branch of American Federation of Teachers, came from Saint Paul, Minnesota to address the crowd.  “For those of you who don’t know me, I am a middle school English teacher by trade currently serving an organization that represents 1.6 millions teachers across the country.  I am here to say we are behind you one hundred percent.”  She went on to say, “We have to make high-quality early learning accessible to every child in New Mexico.”

Wesley Morton, T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood® Deputy Director


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