New Mexicans voted for more public education money. But Congress has to allow it first.

Democratic federal delegation is trying to push the bill through before the end of the year and a government shutdown

By: - December 12, 2022 5:00 am

The Constitutional Amendment 1 watch party at Hotel Andaluz on Nov. 8, 2022. (Photo by Shaun Griswold / Source NM)

New Mexico voters overwhelmingly passed a constitutional amendment in November that would allocate more funding for public schools.

But that money is waiting for federal lawmakers to pass a bill that will guarantee voters’ demands for greater school funding are met, prompting state lawmakers to wonder if they’ll have this money to budget during the 60-day legislative session beginning Jan. 17.

With 70% in support, New Mexicans overwhelmingly voted yes on Constitutional Amendment 1 during the General Election in November. This means the state’s Land Grant Permanent Fund, made up of revenue from state land usage, will raise its annual contribution to public education by 1.25%. That could amount to about $250 million in the next fiscal year for early childhood and K-12 education — but only if Congress acts.

Since the federal government created the Land Grant Permanent Fund, meeting the will of New Mexico’s voters and moving more money out of it requires federal approval. Although many state and federal officials have said the bill is likely to pass, there’s a sense of urgency to get it done before 2023.

New Mexicans vote for kids

Sen. Martin Heinrich and Rep. Melanie Stansbury are trying to meet that requirement by driving the N.M. Education Enhancement Act in the House and Senate. Sen. Ben Ray Luján and Rep. Teresa Leger Fernández are also original cosponsors of the legislation.

Staffers from both Heinrich and Stansbury’s offices said the lawmakers’ top priorities are getting this federal bill passed before the end of the year. It got through the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee unanimously in July and is currently waiting for consideration in the Senate.

“There’s no greater investment that we can make in the future of our state than in our children,” Heinrich said in a written statement. “When we improve our education and childcare system, we also make our state a better place to raise a family, to start or expand a business, to find a good-paying job, and to hire the best and brightest employees.”

Can it pass before the end of the year?

One of the reasons to get this done quickly is that a government shutdown is looming, although there’s work to prevent that from happening before Dec. 17. If the bill doesn’t pass this year, it’ll have to be reintroduced to a new Congress in 2023, this time with Republicans in control of the House. 

Stansbury’s spokesperson Julia Friedmanm said the New Mexico’s federal delegation would reintroduce it in Congress if it doesn’t pass before adjournment. Friedmann said they are “exploring every avenue to pass this legislation before the end of the year.”

“New Mexicans have spoken, and they have decided to invest in our kids,” Stansbury said in a written statement. “I am working hard to ensure that every single member of Congress hears the voices of New Mexicans so we can invest in our children, our education system, and our future.”

At a state Public School Capital Outlay Oversight Task Force meeting on Friday, Dec. 9, Rep. Tara Lujan (D-Santa Fe) said passage in the new makeup of Congress could be a challenge.

“It looks like it could be really difficult if it doesn’t get through by the end of the year, and we’re already having difficulties meeting what Congress needs to get done by this fiscal year,” she said.

Democrats have already asked outgoing Republican Rep. Yvette Herrell to talk to her party’s colleagues about pushing the bill through, but there hasn’t been confirmation on whether she’ll do it or not.

Herrell’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment. We’ll update this article if she responds.

Even if it does pass, the president would need to sign it before any new money is taken from the permanent fund.

The push to tap NM’s Land Grant Permanent Fund for education

The bill doesn’t have to stand alone, and could potentially be part of a broader legislative package for an easier route to the president’s desk. Friedmann said the New Mexico delegation members are trying to get this legislation included in a “must-pass end-of-year spending bill.”

The state legislature begins Jan. 17, and state lawmakers have questioned during multiple legislative education meetings if public education will get the Land Grant money during the 60-day session. They can’t plan details of where it could go until it’s approved at a federal level.

“We think that’s going to happen before the end of the year, according to Sen. Heinrich, but that could delay it if it gets bound up at the federal level as to when we actually see it,” Sen. William Soules (D-Las Cruces) said.

Some lawmakers disagreed about having to get federal approval at all in the first place, according to the Albuquerque Journal, but that’s the phrasing that made it into the final version of the amendment approved by voters.

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Megan Gleason
Megan Gleason

Megan Gleason is a journalist based in Albuquerque. She recently graduated from the University of New Mexico, where she served as the editor-in-chief of the Daily Lobo. Other work has appeared under the New Mexico Press Association as well as in the Independent, Gallup Sun and Silver City Daily Press.