Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham delivers the 2023 State of the State before lawmakers in Santa Fe on Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2023. (Photo by Shaun Griswold / Source NM)
Gov. Michelle Lujan-Grisham promised billions in educational investment during her State of the State address and unveiled two programs to big applause.
Universal child care, she said on Tuesday, could be supported by the Early Childhood Education Trust Fund. And a universal school lunch program would also roll out $20 million for school kitchens so they can offer fresh and healthy foods.
The governor touted the success of her administration in its “cradle-to-career” approach, which she said is making educational programs like child care and early childhood education more affordable and accessible, “lifting families out of poverty for the first time in decades and putting them on the path to success.”
Good public education at every age “has been my priority since the first day of my administration, which is why, over the last four years, we have supercharged our education system,” Lujan-Grisham said in her speech.
Education advocates expressed support for the governor’s new initiatives and called for a continued investment in early childhood education.
New Mexico Voices for Children Executive Director Amber Wallin praised the shift in the tax burden that benefits low-income families. New Mexico in July stopped collecting Social Security benefits taxes from people who make $100,000 or less or joint tax filers who make $150,000 or less in annual income.
“Making a system that supports families is key,” she said. “Having a fair tax system is really important to helping kids and families access education … and it is important that everyone in the state is paying their fair share.”
She also expressed support for continuing the child tax credit.
Wallin asked that the Legislature use its historic surplus to fund education initiatives and not use Early Childhood Education Trust Fund money for unrelated programs. She said voters made their priorities heard when they overwhelmingly passed Constitutional Amendment 1, which pulls more from the Land Grant Permanent Funds for early childhood education.
Meanwhile, New Mexico is still grappling with the Yazzie-Martinez ruling, which found that the state was not meeting its constitutional obligation to provide equitable, quality education. Lawmakers and advocates have urged the Legislature to pass bills to adequately address the problem.
“Nothing will change even if the state invests millions of dollars in the same systems that don’t have the capacity to respond to this ruling,” former Cochiti Pueblo Gov. Regis Pecos told Source New Mexico.
Rep. Derrick Lente (D-Sandia Pueblo) is introducing several bills that would invest millions in educational resources by directly funding tribes. Supporters are calling for a Tribal Education Trust Fund, which would give $100,000 to tribes each year to lead the way in meeting their communities’ educational needs.
While the governor did not directly discuss efforts to meet the Yazzie-Martinez requirements, Wallin said she hoped the new programs the governor promised would be implemented equitably.
“We know there’s some challenges in addressing Yazzie-Martinez,” she said. “But it’s important for us to not lose focus on the conversations we need to have with tribes, rural families and all the people who are affected by the decisions being made.”
The trust fund measure, which hadn’t yet been filed Tuesday night, received an endorsement Monday from the Legislative Education Study Committee, an interim committee that meets throughout the year to discuss the proposal’s it supported. The committee also endorsed changes to graduation requirements, $100 million in capital outlay funds to go toward school safety and an increase in instructional hours.
Though the state still struggles in education, Wallin said, that reality is changing.
“We pull data all the time, and we’re lagging behind,” Wallin said. “But what we are continuing to see now is New Mexico becoming a leader on opportunities for kids and families.”
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