In a near party-line vote, state senators on Sunday night approved a proposed constitutional amendment that would increase funding for the state’s K-12 public schools by about $110 million annually starting next year.
The proposal cleared the Senate 23-19, but still must be approved by the House of Representatives to be placed on the fall ballot for voters. Every Senate Democrat except for John Arthur Smith of Deming voted for the measure. All 18 Republicans in the Senate opposed it.
The additional money for public schools would come from the state’s land grant endowment. Smith said the endowment has dropped by $1 billion during the last six months as investment markets have declined, leaving it with a total of $13.9 billion.
A portion of funding for K-12 education already comes from the endowment. It provided more than $655 million to public schools this year. But the percentage allocation from the endowment to schools is to decline after this year, and that led Sen. Michael Padilla, D-Albuquerque, to sponsor the proposed constitutional amendment.
His measure would change the endowment’s allocation for schools from 5 percent to 5.8 percent. The higher level of funding would last for 10 years.
Padilla said his proposal would save the jobs of 1,500 to 2,000 teachers in a state often near the bottom in education rankings.
Sen. Linda Lopez, D-Albuquerque, tried to amend Padilla’s proposal to earmark some of the additional money for early childhood education. After Padilla gave a lukewarm endorsement to Lopez’s idea, Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, D-Belen, argued against it. Lopez then withdrew her attempt to alter Padilla’s proposal.
Padilla is sponsoring a separate constitutional amendment to use a portion of the endowment for early childhood education. That measure has little chance to pass the Republican-controlled House, where a committee already has rejected a similar measure.
With four days left in the legislative session, Padilla’s proposal for K-12 funding also will face an uphill climb to clear the House. Republican legislators traditionally have been reluctant to add programs that would take money from the endowment.
If the proposal cleared both houses of the Legislature, voters would get the final say-so in November.