New Mexico education funding tied to the fate of the omnibus bill in Congress

Millions hinge on a single sentence

By: - December 20, 2022 1:38 pm

Voters celebrate the approval of Constitutional Amendment 1 on Nov. 8, 2022. The measure will give more money for public schools in New Mexico. Congress is one step closer from approving the measure to get this money to schools. (Photo by Shaun Griswold / Source NM)

New Mexico is one step closer to expanding funding for public schools and meeting the demand of voters in the state.

Congress is doing its year-end negotiations to draft a spending bill to keep the federal government operable and pay for projects nationwide. Early this morning, lawmakers unveiled a $1.7 trillion spending package that includes a very important sentence for public education in New Mexico.

Passage of the bill would give congressional approval to pulling more money from New Mexico’s Land Grant Permanent Fund each year for “enhanced instruction for at-risk students, extending the school year, teacher compensation and early childhood education” in the state.

Seventy percent of N.M. voters approved a change to the state constitution in November to boost education spending, but pulling more from that fund still needs a rubber stamp from D.C.

New Mexicans vote for kids

Once approved by Congress, New Mexico will add an additional 1.25% from revenues on state land — estimated to be more than $200 million for the first year the money becomes available — to help fund public school initiatives

Congressional leaders are expected to vote on the spending package by the end of this week.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Maryland) advised his colleagues that they will meet on Thursday and won’t end their session until the omnibus spending bill “is completed.”

Meanwhile, New Mexico’s Democratic federal delegation is beaming at the accomplishment of rolling the Land Grant Permanent Fund approval into the spending bill before the end of the year.

The funding could be vital to keeping educators in classrooms with a salary that can support them working with children, according to Vanessa Rogers. She runs a day care in the South Valley and said most employees make minimum wage and often find better pay outside the school.

“We have good teachers that are staying because we don’t want to leave,” she said. “We shouldn’t have to. We’re not asking for much. We’re asking for living wages, we’re not asking for much.”

The effort, known as the New Mexico Enhancement Act, was passed through a Senate committee by Sen. Martin Heinrich in July. It was introduced in the House by Rep. Melanie Stansbury in December following the overwhelming victory in the general election.

“Investing in our children at the level they have long deserved will help change the trajectory of our state. New Mexico families will soon benefit from universal early childhood education and care, programs to help students most in need, and invest in our invaluable teachers and students in our K-12 schools,” the New Mexico delegation said in a joint statement.

Rep. Yvette Herrell, a Republican, is the only member of the delegation who didn’t publicly support congressional approval of investing more money in public schools in the state. Still, she could still vote for the spending bill in one of her final acts before leaving Washington D.C. after losing her seat to Democrat Gabe Vasquez last month.

Early childhood education advocates look for stopgap funding as they await a decision from Congress

In New Mexico, education officials and parents are preparing projects that will spend this new investment in areas that can boost education outcomes for a state at the bottom in math and reading scores, entwined in several lawsuits directing school spending and tasked with reforming a historically bad public school system.

Last week, early childhood education leaders asked for a “bridge loan” to help fund projects until the federal government approved changes to the Land Grant Permanent Fund.

If Congress passes the omnibus bill, New Mexico lawmakers are expecting to include any new money for schools into the next fiscal year forecast, meaning they could potentially start negotiating how the money is spent during the 60-day legislative session that begins on Jan. 17.

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Shaun Griswold
Shaun Griswold

Shaun Griswold is a journalist in Albuquerque. He is a citizen of the Pueblo of Laguna, and his ancestry also includes Jemez and Zuni on the maternal side of his family. He grew up in Albuquerque and Gallup. He brings a decade of print and broadcast news experience. Shaun reports on issues important to Native Americans in urban and tribal communities throughout the state, including education and child welfare.