- New Mexico voters overwhelmingly approved a measure this week to make universal pre-K a constitutional right in that state — the first state to do so, according to advocates who lobbied for the passage.
- The constitutional amendment, which passed with 70% of the votes cast, creates a permanent revenue of funds for early childhood education, including child care, as well as instructional supports for at-risk students and for extending the school year.
- As national efforts to guarantee universal pre-K programs and child care supports seem unlikely to find victory anytime soon, early childhood advocates say the success in New Mexico could be a model other states follow to expand opportunities for young children and their families.
The money for the initiative will not come from taxes but instead be drawn from the state's Permanent School Fund, which collects revenue from oil, gas and mineral production. The fund also earns income from stock investment on that money, explains New Mexico Voices for Children, one of the advocacy groups that worked for the measure's passage.
The state constitution already required that 5% of the fund — which has a total value of $26 billion — be withdrawn every year to support schools, hospitals and other entities. The constitutional amendment adds an additional 1.25% withdrawal for education.
Vote Yes for Kids!, another organization that supported the amendment, estimates the additional drawdown would total $150 million for early childhood education and $100 million for public education initiatives annually.
The organization said the additional funding will provide raises for teachers, affordable and quality pre-K and child care for families, and supports to close achievement gaps for students who are English learners, Native American, low income or have disabilities.
The measure still needs the approval of the U.S. Congress. Technicalities, such as funding distribution to private entities like child care and preschool businesses, also will need to be worked out.
“Thanks to leaders like @OleNewMexico, New Mexico voters enshrined child care funding in their constitution. Now, it’s time for the rest of the nation to follow," tweeted Community Change Action, a national nonprofit that works to empower people from low-income communities.
Cathrine Floyd, early childhood partnerships manager at philanthropy Trust for Learning and a former preschool director, said she hopes the measure helps people understand the connections between children's homes, child care, preschool and the K-12 system. "Anytime there are children anywhere, they are learning," Floyd said.
Despite the overwhelming passage of the New Mexico measure, there was some opposition. According to a summary of arguments for and against constitutional amendments on the ballot, written by the New Mexico Legislative Council Service, one argument against the early education proposal was that the additional withdrawals for education could reduce future distributions from the fund because there would be less money to invest.