Justin Schatz is The Paper's daily news reporter. He has reported on New Mexico for KRQE News, Searchlight NM and the Santa Fe Reporter.

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On Wednesday NM Senator Martin Heinrich and Representative Melanie Stansbury introduced legislation that would allow New Mexico to increase investment from its Land Grant Permanent Fund (LGPF) and put it towards early childhood education funding. Under the proposed bicameral legislation, New Mexico will be able to increase the amount used from the Federal Land Fund from five percent to 6.25 percent. NM Senator Ben Ray Luján and Representative Teresa Leger Fernández are the original cosponsors of the bill.

The LGPF is sourced through revenues collected from 13 million acres of public land that were granted to the state by the Ferguson Act of 1898 and the Enabling Act of 1910. The LGPF, as of September 30, is valued to be $24.5 billion. Most of the money comes from oil and gas extraction, as well as taxes from mining and logging.

Five percent of LGPF annual earnings, $126.9 million, are distributed to New Mexico schools. The proposed constitutional amendment, which will increase that allocation by 1.25 percent, will see the total funding from the Fund rise to $245.7 million. 

Lawmakers hope that the additional money allocated to schools and early childhood education will help place New Mexico at the forefront of education in the country. The Legislature included a clause requesting congressional authorization for New Mexico Education Act, should the voters ultimately approve it.

“Too many children in New Mexico are showing up to kindergarten so far behind their classmates that they can’t catch up. We need to level the playing field for our kids—especially in their earliest years—if we want to set all of them up with a strong foundation for long-term academic and career success,” Senator Heinrich said. “I’m proud to introduce this legislation to provide Congressional consent to allow New Mexico to tap into our Land Grant Permanent Fund so we can provide high-quality early childhood education for all of our kids.

Stansbury joined Heinrich in emphasizing the positive impact that this constitutional amendment will have on education in New Mexico. New Mexico has continually ranked near the bottom for education in the U.S. “Investing in our kids and their education is an investment in our future. Investing in early childhood education and care is one of the best investments we can make in our families, our economy, and the well-being of our communities,” Rep. Stansbury said during the press conference. “I’m proud to join Senator Heinrich and our delegation to introduce a bill to empower New Mexico to invest in our early childhood education system. Combined with the universal pre-K investments in the Build Back Better Act, New Mexico’s plan to use the Land Grant Permanent Fund to invest in early education will create one of the best-funded early education systems in the country. 

Sen. Luján stressed that this amendment will be critical in elevating education in the state.“This legislation is instrumental in providing New Mexico’s children, students, and teachers with permanent and sustainable funds for early childhood education,” Luján said. 

“We are at an important moment. Next year, New Mexicans have the opportunity to make their voices heard at the polls and invest in the future of our children,” Leger Fernández stated.

“The plan to invest a small share of the Land Grant Permanent Fund in early childhood services has been in the works for many years, and Senator Heinrich has always been a champion of it. He understands the transformational power of high-quality early childhood care and education programs for New Mexico’s children. We appreciate that he and Rep. Melanie Stansbury are co-sponsoring the legislation needed to garner congressional support for this important change to the state constitution,” Deputy Director of New Mexico Voices for Children Amber Wallin said.

The constitutional amendment to the LGPF has received bipartisan support and has been endorsed by over 30 New Mexico organizations.

Notably, Republican Congresswoman Yvette Herrell chose not to sponsor the legislation. She told news outlets she did not support the plan to fund more early childhood education funding from the fund.