A statewide group wants every young child in New Mexico to
receive pre-kindergarten instruction and is touring the state as part of its
efforts to make that happen.
“Research shows that not all children are ready for kindergarten,” said Rosa Barraza, executive director of the New Mexico Association for Early Care and Learning, an advisory council member of the New Mexico Early Childhood Development Partnership. “If there is a gap (in preparedness), students enter kindergarten already behind.”
When students have difficulties doing well in school, even in the early years, it can hamper attendance, participation and achievement for years to come, she said.
Barraza also said that data indicates that the state receives $9 in economic benefits for every $1 it invests in early childhood education. Longitudinal research also shows that people who receive pre-K education have higher rates of
college attendance, earn higher incomes and report fewer incidences of crime and
welfare dependency, according to information distributed by the partnership.
Barraza and other members of the Early Childhood Development Partnership, a policy initiative of the United Way of Santa Fe County, visited Roswell Wednesday in their first stop in a public awareness campaign to six cities that will continue through December.
They talked with parents, educators and the public and dropped by a couple of educational sites, including the only early pre-K site for 3 year olds in the city, My Kiddos Child Care Center on South Union Avenue. Rated a five-star learning center, it is also the city’s only pre-K program funded by the New Mexico Department of Children, Youth and Families.
They said Roswell also has about five other pre-K programs operated through public schools and funded by the New Mexico Public Education Department. Private religious education is also available. To help identify pre-K options, the Children, Youth and Families Department and the Public Education Department announced that they have developed an interactive map launching soon that will show families and the public what programs are available in their areas.
“There is need in just about every county of our state,” said Danila Zidovsky, policy analyst with United Way of Santa Fe County. “We have 30,000 kids in New Mexico who don’t have access to pre-K.”
About 9,493 children in the state are enrolled in pre-K programs, 57 percent through public schools. Of the total students, 997 are 3 year olds in early pre-K.
The partnership has a goal of universal pre-K to all families who want it by 2021. It estimates that it will cost $285 million over five years to achieve that aim.
Funding for early childhood education has been broached through proposed legislation in New Mexico almost every year since 2013. Last year, some legislators forwarded a potential constitutional amendment to take an additional $112 million a year from the Permanent Fund of the New Mexico State Land Trust, a fund that already provides money for public schools as well as other public institutions. Another proposed bill would have used severance tax as a funding mechanism. Neither bill passed the Senate.
Exactly how funding might occur wasn’t addressed by partnership members during the My Kiddos site visit, but Zidovsky said the group works with local and state policy-makers to keep the issue before lawmakers and voters.
“In New Mexico, child care costs more than in-state tuition,” she said. “It is not only a question of how do we provide quality pre-school, but it is an economic issue. How can parents get back to work while knowing that their children are getting good care and quality learning? And how can employers be certain that their employees will be coming to work without having to worry about where their children are and if they are getting the educational opportunities they need?”
Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 310, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.