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Early childhood education department bill advances

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Early childhood education department bill advances

By Robert Nott

One of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s favored legislative initiatives finally advanced Wednesday when the Senate Rules Committee voted 8-0 for a bill to create a centralized department for early childhood education.

Senate Bill 22 would consolidate programs that are spread among several agencies, including the Public Education Department and the Children Youth and Families Department.

The sponsor, Sen. Michael Padilla, D-Albuquerque, helped his cause by cutting in half his initial request of $2.5 million to get the department running by July 1, 2020. Padilla now is seeking $1.25 million for the department to make the proposal more palatable.

He said the public would benefit from the new agency. His plan, he said, would allow for better control and direction of the state’s pre-kindergarten programs. And staffers “eating, drinking and sleeping” best practices for early childhood education would be under one roof, he said.

His bill would include the appointment of a cabinet secretary to oversee the department. In addition, an assistant secretary would focus on early education services for Native Americans.

The proposal calls for a 50-50 split in funding to maintain a mix of public and private schools that offer pre-kindergarten services. Those providers would have to meet departmental standards to earn grants.

Lujan Grisham deployed Lt. Gov. Howie Morales, her chief of staff, John Bingaman, and Secretary of Education-designate Karen Trujillo to speak in favor of the bill.

It had staggered and stalled during an early hearing of the Rules Committee. Members said they were confused by vague language regarding how the program would work and how money would be allocated. They suggested a series of amendments that Padilla accepted.

He agreed to several more amendments Wednesday as legislators tried to clear up questions about how the department would administer funds for public schools and money for private contractors who run education and childcare centers. Another issue was what role the Public Education Department would play in channeling that money into the program.

Padilla told the committee that a lot of people “had to work like dogs” behind the scenes to get the bill into shape so committee members would support it. He said he remained open to compromise.

For the most part, Padilla was amenable to the suggestions of committee members, but he drew a line when it came to giving up the proposed name: The Early Childhood Education and Care Department.

A lot of thought went into choosing that name, Padilla said.

Some senators were not impressed.

“I hate the name,” said Sen. Mark Moores, R-Albuquerque. “It’s too long.”

Senators suggested that Padilla simplify it to the Early Childhood Department or something equally concise.

The bill next goes to the Senate Education Committee. If it survives, it would then move to the Senate Finance Committee.

Lujan Grisham, who announced during her campaign last year that she wanted to create an early childhood education division as its own entity, sent the Senate a message Wednesday asking the the members to approve the measure.

If Padilla’s bill clears eventually clears the Senate, it would still have to go the House of Representatives for consideration.

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