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Land Commissioner Pitches Idea for Funding Early Childhood Education in New Mexico

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  Commentary:  New Mexico State Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn today proposed the “Early Childhood Education Land Grant Act,” a draft bill for consideration during the 2017 legislative session that would create the Early Childhood Education Land Grant Permanent Fund and the Early Childhood Education Land Grant Income Fund. A copy of the legislation is attached.

The federal government currently holds a vast amount of unleased federal subsurface mineral acreage beneath private land within New Mexico – at least 5.3 million acres and potentially upwards of 6.5 million acres (acreage is still being identified by the State Land Office). Any and all unleased subsurface mineral acreage beneath private land that is transferred by Congress from the federal government to the state after the effective date of the Early Childhood Education Land Grant Act would then be leased out by the State Land Office for the purposes of revenue generation, with all funds earned to be deposited to the Early Childhood Education Land Grant Permanent Fund.

“We have a unique opportunity to ‘grow the pie’ for education funding by asking the federal government to transfer their unleased subsurface mineral acreage beneath private land within New Mexico to the State Land Office, which can then be leased out to generate revenue for the benefit of early childhood education,” said Commissioner Dunn.

In FY 16, the State Land Office earned an average of $32.29 per acre from mining, oil and gas extraction activities across its 13 million subsurface acres. Once transferred from the federal government to the state and leased out by the State Land Office, the approximately 5.3 million to 6.5 million acres currently under consideration for transfer could potentially generate a range of $171 million to $210 million in annual royalties to the Early Childhood Education Land Grant Permanent Fund – based on average SLO subsurface earnings of $32.29 per acre.

Annual distributions equal to the interest, dividends and capital gains of the Early Childhood Education Land Grant Permanent Fund would be transferred to the Early Childhood Education Land Grant Income Fund. Ninety-five percent of the Income Fund would be appropriated annually by the State Legislature for early childhood education programs as provided by law. Five percent of the Income Fund would be appropriated annually by the State Legislature to the State Land Office to provide for the costs incurred in generating revenue from the management, care, custody, control and disposition of the subsurface mineral acreage transferred from the federal government to the state for the purpose of funding early childhood education.

In addition to the passage of this legislation at the state level, New Mexico’s federal congressional delegation in Washington, DC, would need to spearhead the effort to transfer the unleased federal subsurface mineral acreage beneath private land to the state. Land access would not be an issue since private landowners already manage the surface above these minerals.

“Addressing the issue of early childhood education would help to reduce both the federal and state need to allocate resources in the future to remediate the effects of challenges facing New Mexico’s children,” said Commissioner Dunn. “As opposed to being a ‘quick fix’ solution, the Early Childhood Education Land Grant Permanent Fund would grow over time and provide a long-term, sustainable endowment and funding stream for early childhood education in New Mexico.”