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More support sought for early childhood education

Taking care of two children alone – and during the COVID-19 pandemic, no less – is no small task.

That’s why Melissa Martinez, a single mother of a 3-year-old son and a 4-year-old daughter, says more support for early childhood education is important.

“It’s very hard to raise children alone. It takes a village, it takes dedicated early childhood educators to support me,” she told a crowd of early childhood education advocates Monday morning. “Committed school funding … means the opportunity that all children will get this education that they need.”

Parents like Martinez are part of why U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich said he’s asking voters for approval and seeking congressional authorization of the New Mexico Education Enhancement Act. The act would open the door for more Land Grant Permanent Fund dollars to be invested in early childhood education.

Opponents have argued the proposal would hurt the fund’s health in the long term, and that pulling too much out now would lead to a future generation of children being shortchanged.

A crowd of children and adults packed into the headquarters of OLÉ, which is short for Organizers in the Land of Enchantment. Many listened in through audio devices that provided live interpretation, and some waved posters written in Spanish that demanded more for early childhood educators.

“This is obviously about every single child that benefits from early childhood education, but it’s also about the future of our state,” Heinrich said. “Every child who shows up to kindergarten knowing their letters, knowing their numbers … knowing how to behave as part of a group – that child that’s on that (track) makes an enormous amount more money over the course of their lives.”

Children and early childhood advocates listen to U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich talk about his bill, the New Mexico Education Enhancement Act, which would open the door to approving more funds for early childhood education.

Heinrich said that other states that have invested in early childhood education have seen their economies grow, making it “the biggest economic development opportunity of our lifetimes” for New Mexico.

The bill comes as a follow-up to House Joint Resolution 1, which the state Legislature passed over a year ago. That came after similar legislation was approved by the House but died in the Senate five years in a row.

That resolution will propose to voters and Congress a state constitutional amendment to allocate an additional 1.25% from the land grant fund, 60% of which – estimated around $126.9 million per year – would go to early childhood education, according to a fiscal impact report.

Jessa Cowdrey, director of public policy and marketing for CHI St. Joseph’s Children, said it’ll be up to the Legislature to decide how exactly to spend the money through legislation. She added that there will be opportunities for community input in that process.

Heinrich said investing in early childhood education will also impact student achievement, adding that that’s been the case in every other state that’s made similar investments.

“I think we’ll see a marked difference in achievement in everything measurable from test scores to also social outcomes in our schools,” he said.