A few lines in the 4,126-page measure Congress sent to President Biden’s desk for signature Friday will mean hundreds of millions more in funding for New Mexico’s public school students each year.

Voters in N.M. overwhelmingly approved pulling an additional 1.25 percent from the state’s multi-billion dollar Land Grant Permanent Fund for education each year. Because the fund was set up by Congress when New Mexico became a state, the will of the voters in 2022 still required a congressional sign-off.

The lengthy bill had finally cleared both chambers on Friday and is expected to be signed by Biden.

In the next fiscal year in New Mexico, over $200 million will come out of a pool of money fed monthly by revenue from oil, gas and mineral extraction on state lands.

Over half of the new money is destined for the state’s burgeoning early childhood education system as it recruits staff and works to reach all corners of the state, providing free or low-cost child care and pre-kindergarten schooling.

“When we improve our education and child care system, we also make our state a better place to raise a family, to start or expand a business, to find a good-paying job, and to hire the best and brightest employees,” U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich said in a written statement earlier this month as Congress went back and forth over the spending bill.

The rest of the fresh funding will go to K-12 public education, beefing up instruction for students who are at-risk, making the school year longer and paying teachers better.

Advocates say infusing public education with much-needed resources will go a long way toward putting New Mexico into compliance with a court order to provide equitable education to all of the state’s students, including those who are Indigenous, come from families with low incomes, have disabilities or are learning English.

Those students have historically not received the quality of education they have a right to under the New Mexico Constitution, according to the judge’s ruling in the Yazzie-Martinez case.

The effort to further tap the fund for public schools in New Mexico spanned years. With Biden’s approval, it will finally cross the finish line.

Marisa Demarco, Source NM