New Mexico In Depth is speaking with the candidates for New Mexico governor on the issues of early childhood, child wellbeing and education in New Mexico. Jeff Apodaca of Albuquerque is a former media executive and is one of three candidates seeking the Democratic nomination. This Q&A has been edited for length and clarity. Sylvia Ulloa: What would early childhood education in New Mexico look like in an Apodaca administration? And what is your plan for offering early childhood care and education in rural New Mexico, where they often lack infrastructure and access to skilled early childhood educators?
New Mexico In Depth is speaking with the candidates for New Mexico governor on the issues of early childhood, child wellbeing and education in New Mexico. State Sen. Joseph Cervantes of Las Cruces is one of three candidates seeking the Democratic nomination. He is a lawyer and small business owner in southern New Mexico. This Q&A has been edited for length and clarity. Sylvia Ulloa: What would early childhood education in New Mexico look like in a Cervantes administration?
The three Democratic candidates for governor met in a forum in Las Cruces this week to showcase their plans to change the direction of New Mexico, which has suffered what some economists have called a lost decade after the Great Recession — a period when New Mexico lost more than 50,000 jobs, wages stagnated and more families ended up on public assistance. The evening at the Rio Grande Theatre before a nearly full house was at times testy, with former media executive Jeff Apodaca taking a potshot at frontrunner Congresswoman Michelle Lujan Grisham for skipping previous forums with her opponents in his opener, and lawyer and state Sen. Joe Cervantes calling out Apodaca on his lack of understanding about New Mexico’s water woes in the face of Texas vs. New Mexico and Colorado. But on the whole, the format kept crosstalk at a minimum, with no rebuttals allowed and candidates unable to directly question one another. The three Democratic hopefuls took on a wide array of topics, from legalizing marijuana (Apodaca: legalize, Lujan Grisham: legalize with safeguards, Cervantes: decriminalize), the behavioral health meltdown in the state, the state’s messy tax code, renewable energy plans, and education.
An Albuquerque organization just got awarded scientific research help and an instant brain trust in cities like Boston, Austin and Salt Lake City to determine whether the services they offer young Bernalillo County parents are helping them develop emotional bonds with their children. The hope is that this connection will set their children up to become good learners. Birth to age 3 is the fastest developing period in a person’s life and policymakers and child advocates in New Mexico are trying to find the best way to make that time count and to change the trajectory of poor educational outcomes, an underprepared workforce, and a new generation that will repeat the pattern. Cue Mission: Graduate. The 5-year-old organization was just chosen as one of 29 communities to join the StriveTogether Prenatal – Three Impact and Improvement Network by the National Institute for Children’s Health Quality and StriveTogether.
New Mexico school districts that had hoped to put a little more cushion in their budgets managed to persuade a sympathetic Legislature, but couldn’t get it past the governor’s veto pen. When she signed the 2018-2019 budget on March 7, Gov. Susana Martinez struck a line through $5 million state lawmakers had set aside to repay some school districts whose cash accounts had been swept by $40. 3 million to help fill a large budget gap in 2017. Martinez had called the cash accounts of school districts “slush funds.” State superintendents — who drove to the capital en masse during the session to lobby lawmakers for repayment — call them reserve accounts that are used to make large payments like annual insurance, as well as extras like giving teachers stipends to take students to science camp. School leaders said during testimony in Santa Fe that taking the cash out of their accounts had hurt their ability to deal with unexpected expenses.
Child wellbeing advocates pushing to expand childhood programs argue that New Mexico’s children are marinating in a stew of toxic stress that not only affects their health, but also underlies the state’s poor educational outcomes. This week, they got data to support their contention. A new report from the nonprofit Child Trends, using data from the 2016 National Survey of Children’s Health, found that New Mexico has some of the highest rates of children suffering from adverse childhood experiences (ACEs). It tied with Arizona for having 18 percent of children from birth to age 17 with three or more ACEs. The national rate for three or more ACEs is 11 percent.
Odds makers should be revising their estimates for passage of the Land Grant Fund Distribution for early childhood education. The joint resolution co-sponsored by Reps. Antonio “Moe” Maestas and Javier Martinez, both Democrats from Albuquerque, and Rep. Stephanie Garcia Richard, D-Los Alamos, chairwoman of the House Education Committee, has bypassed the Senate Rules Committee, the place it went to die in the 2017 legislative session. However, early childhood advocates shouldn’t get too far along in fantasizing about the winnings — the chances are still about as good as a long-shot horse winning the Kentucky Derby, not impossible but unlikely. Maestas and Martinez said after the resolution passed the full House on Tuesday they were planning to lobby individual lawmakers to try to get this constitutional amendment across the finish line.
Rep. Javier Martinez talked with NM In Depth’s Sylvia Ulloa about House Joint Resolution 1, which would tap New Mexico’s permanent land grant fund for early childhood programs. It passed the House Tuesday on a 36-33 vote.A plan to fund early childhood education programs in New Mexico by adding an extra 1 percent to the distribution from the Land Grant Permanent Fund cleared the same hurdle it did last year — though with about an inch less clearance. Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas and Rep. Javier Martinez’s HJR1, Land Grant Fund Distributions, passed on the House floor on a 36-33 vote, one vote less than the resolution got in the 2017 session. Martinez said the debate about the benefits of early childhood education was largely over. The debate now is how to fund it to an extent that it could change the education system. “We can invest in global stocks or we can invest in our children,” he said in opening statements.
Is it possible to sneak $41 million into New Mexico’s budget — even after the House has already sent its version over to the Senate? School district leaders are sure going to try. The House Appropriations Committee heard impassioned pleas Wednesday from the Republican sponsor of a bill to pay back public school districts whose cash reserves were taken by the state to plug a gaping hole in the fiscal 2017 budget. Superintendents and school board members from all corners of New Mexico and Albuquerque traveled to the state capitol to show their support for the measure. The effort got a late start because of an unexpected increase of “new money” that was forecast Jan.
With the 2018 legislative session fully underway, lawmakers are once again debating funding levels for early education. A tug a war continues to play out between those who say New Mexico ought to tap its Land Grant Permanent Fund, one of the largest such funds in the nation, to dramatically expand the reach of early ed programs and those who advocate a slower, incremental approach to increasing funding levels. As the debate rages on, current services aren’t evenly distributed around the state. New state dollars often go to places where they’re already going, helping to expand the number of children served in places where facilities to educate young children already exist. It leaves a lot of rural New Mexico’s children out in the cold when it comes to New Mexico PreK.