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New Mexico just voted to make kindergarten a universal right

Editor’s note, Wednesday November 9, 10:27 a.m.: On Election Day, New Mexico approved the pre-K funding measure with 70% of the vote and more than 95% of precincts reporting. The original story, posted on October 18, is below.

In November, after a political struggle that stretches back more than a decade, voters in New Mexico are poised to approve an electoral measure this would make the South West State the first in the country to secure a constitutional right to early childhood education.

The measure would authorize lawmakers to draw new funds from a state sovereign wealth fund to provide a dedicated funding stream for universal early education and child care, and to bolster home visiting programs for new parents.

The single trust fund—the Land Grant Permanent Fund—was created when New Mexico was created in 1912 and is funded by state oil and gas revenues and interest on fund investments; it is now valued at nearly $26 billion. The state constitution requires that 5% of the fund be withdrawn each year to support public schools, hospitals and universities. The amendment, if passed, would authorize the withdrawal of an additional 1.25% per year for education, allocating about $150 million for early childhood education and about another $100 million for K -12. (Exactly how the money would be spent would be determined after the amendment passes.)

Voters of all political persuasions seem open to the idea: a poll sponsored by the Albuquerque Journal in August found that 69% of likely voters in the state supported the amendment and only 15% opposed it. Those numbers included 79% Democrats, 70% independents, and 56% Republicans.

A more recent poll conducted by Public Policy Polling in October found 51 percent of voters supported the amendment, with 26% opposition and 23% doubts. Hispanic and Latino voters were the most supportive demographic groups.

New Mexico’s potential victory comes as defenders at the national level struggle to secure wins for the the country’s faltering child care system. In Congress, money for child care was taken out of the Democrats’ social spending agenda. Parents are desperate for open and affordable programs today. Early childhood workers are giving up the field for higher paying industries. Babysitting jobs are down nearly 10% compared to February 2020.

Activists in New Mexico, a state not known for strong child protection policyhope their efforts can serve as a model for other states and signal to the federal government that child care is not just necessary, but politically popular.

“We are absolutely part of a larger network of states, and not every state has a [Land Grant] Permanent fund, but each state has a legislature and an organization,” said Andrea Serrano, executive director of Ole, a grassroots group in New Mexico. “We know they’re watching us to see what’s going on.”

Leaders are quick to say they don’t see the state’s creative efforts as a replacement for federal aid. “Ultimately, our goal is to have funding at all levels of government,” said Jennifer Wells, acting national director of economic justice for Community Change Action.

Activists have spent more than 10 years working to get early years funding on the ballot

More than a quarter of children under age 5 in New Mexico living in poverty, one of the highest rates in the country. The state has long classified basically of the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s National Kids Count Project, an annual ranking of child well-being based on 16 indicators.

More than a decade ago, advocates in New Mexico began organizing to pressure lawmakers to commit more funds to early childhood initiatives, inspired by those low rankings and a slew of emerging research that has shown how much brain development and social-emotional learning occurs in a child. first three years of life. Their goal was A resolution to raise the issue of withdrawing more money from the Permanent Fund to voters.

Carmella Salinas, an early childhood educator in New Mexico for 20 years, recalls when she first heard about Olé’s organizing efforts and got involved. “In 2012, I was still making about $10 an hour, working all the time, and couldn’t pay my bills,” she told Vox. “Then I heard about all these other women who had the same problems as me or who couldn’t afford childcare. People thought we were babysitters and if you love your job, money doesn’t matter. Salinas began taking lobbying trips, writing op-eds, and speaking out.

One of the reasons the Permanent Fund proposal has proven popular is that it would not require raising taxes.

It’s been a long fight in the state legislature. State Rep. Antonio Maestas, a Democrat from Albuquerque, told the New Mexico Political Report that in the nine years he co-sponsored the resolution, the bill was passed by 25 committees in the House and was the subject of six three-hour debates in the House. In the Senate, he said the bill was the subject of five hearings averaging about 20 minutes each, and the Senate had two hours of public debate on the bill.

Serrano told Vox that their biggest obstacle to getting the measure finally passed was overcoming resistance from a handful of conservative Democrats. “Year after year they either didn’t hear it or killed it on the Senate Finance Committee,” she said, referring to Democratic lawmakers like state senators John Arthur Smith and Mary Kay Papen, who are no longer in office. .

To overcome their resistance, progressive supporters decided in 2020 to launch what was ultimately successful against these long-serving politicians. Progressives also successfully launched challenges against other Democrats who opposed raising the minimum wage, legalizing recreational marijuana, and making abortions easier to access.

“There were a handful of legislators who were really blocking any kind of progress in New Mexico, and once they were removed from office, the early years measure passed and was put on the ballot” , explained Serrano.

Some Republican lawmakers have also opposed the idea of ​​opting out of the land grant, noting that the more citizens withdraw from the fund, the less likely compound interest will increase on state investments. As a back-up compromise, lawmakers included language in the ballot measure stating that if the fund’s five-year year-end average market value fell below $17 billion, the further drawdown of 1, 25% would cease.

If voters approve the measure, state lawmakers will then create enabling legislation to determine how the new funds will be administered. Serrano says a major priority for their group is making sure early childhood educators are included in that process and pushing for a career network for workers, with salaries that start at $18 a month. hour. Many early childhood educators in New Mexico still earn minimum wage, which $11.50 seat and will just reach $12 per hour in January.

Last year, New Mexico made headlines when its Democratic Governor, Michelle Lujan Grisham, announced reforms make childcare free for almost all families in the state. The funding reforms — the first of their kind in the nation — were made possible by leveraging federal Covid-19 relief funds, but those dollars will soon dry up. Proponents frame the November ballot measure as a necessary step to extending these accessible changes.

Advocates hope New Mexico can be a point of proof for national efforts

After the Cut Inflation Act passed the Senate without any child care provisions, a blow after the House approved a $390 billion investment in November 2021, advocates had to sullenly planning their next move.

For now, organizers see the year-end appropriations and omnibus spending negotiations as opportunities to push for more child care spending. One likely possibility is to increase investments in the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG), a federal program aimed at reducing child care costs for low-income families.

There is already bipartisan support to increase investment in the program, but that alone would do little to solve the cost and access crisis for middle-class families, or the notoriously low wages of child care workers.

“Our view is that the state’s child care efforts are positive for several reasons, including demonstrating to Congress the many needs that exist for children, their families, and early childhood educators.” , said Averi Pakulis, vice president of early childhood policy. at First Focus on Children, an advocacy group. “However, we believe it is also imperative to invest heavily in our childcare system, in part because it is unacceptable that only some children and families, depending on the state in which they live, to have high quality, affordable and accessible child care.

Erica Gallegos, co-founder of the Child Care for Every Family Network, said her coalition — which launched about a year and a half ago — is working to develop a state and federal strategy, including one that brings much more robustness and long term. – term investments in red states. Gallegos was once an early childhood educator herself and involved as an activist in New Mexico’s fight with Ole.

Last May, they helped organize a Day without childcare to increase support for equitable access to childcare and better working conditions for providers. Earlier this month, activists also staged a nationwide protest Voter Action Week for Child Care, full of events to put pressure on elected officials to intervene on the issue.

“The fight in New Mexico is so brilliant and shows how you can anchor early childhood care as a right in the larger education system,” said Wells of Community Change Action. “We can get some real victories, but we know states can’t handle this alone.”

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