Monday, 11 June 2018 21:16

What's right for spending on Early Childhood Education?

Commentary by NMBC President Carla J. Sonntag

There was discussion at an interim legislative committee about the ongoing debate of increased distributions from the Land Grant Permanent Fund. The New Mexico Business Coalition has been vocal for many years that taking more than the time-tested, economist approved distribution of five percent per year would be detrimental to the long term viability of the fund. The fund was set up when New Mexico first became a state to provide funding for education and certain other state needs in perpetuity. It cannot do that, if the fund’s corpus is damaged.

So the discussion of earmarking part of the funds’ growth or interest revenue is interesting. It will slow the overall growth of the fund, but it won’t etch away at the corpus of the fund. That is a plan NMBC prefers over the alternative but for the deficiencies still unaddressed with this potential ‘solution’:

  1. Addressing specifically what the money is going to be used for to improve our educational results. Advocates say, “Don’t worry! The money will go to early childhood education.” What exactly does that mean and how will the money be spent? While our teachers are not the worst paid in the U.S., they are far from being paid what teachers in successful school districts are paid. Maybe if we earmark additional money for quality educators, we’ll see different results for our children.
  2. Determining why our education system is failing so many of our children. Advocates say we just need to start earlier impacting the education of our kids.

Really? The state Legislature approved funding for preschool in 2005 to help close an achievement gap between low-income children and those from higher­ income families. The state set up a system of grants to day-care providers through the Children, Youth and Families Department as well as to schools through the Public Education Department. Gov. Martinez grew the distributions to $54 million in fiscal 2018, more than double four years prior, but our educational results have not improved.

Until these issues are addressed with actual data-supported answers, NMBC is hesitant to agree that additional funding is the answer. Not wanting to be an obstructionist, however, we are certainly open to exploring options, so long as they include: 1) a true analysis of the problem, 2) an investigation into the actual use of money flowing into early childhood education currently; 3) an evaluation of successful programs from other states that could be implemented in New Mexico and 4) inclusion of parents in the process to assure they understand how best to help their children receive a quality education.

Finally, NMBC would like to see a usable matrix with clearly defined objectives and evaluation tools for the implemented program. Providing additional funding without clear expectations serves only to set New Mexico up for continued failure and advocates again beating the drum for more money.

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