Statistically, the difference between ranking 49th and 50th in the nation when it comes to child well-being is insignificant. What will be significant is how New Mexico works to finally improve the economic and educational status of its children.
Because those two indicators directly affect the other three measurements in the 2013 Kids Count study that moved New Mexico down a notch to dead last: health, family and community life.
Quite simply, if your parents don’t work and you don’t learn how to read by the end of third grade, the outlook for everything else is dim.
In New Mexico, according to the federal data used in the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Kids Count book, 37 percent of children in New Mexico have parents who don’t have secure employment, 79 percent of fourth-graders can’t read at grade level and 76 percent of eighth-graders can’t do math at grade level.
Numbers like that have to change if other statistics in the report have even a chance of improving – the number of families where the head of household lacks a high school diploma (22 percent), the number of children living in poverty (31 percent), the number of high schoolers not graduating on time (33 percent).
The best way to turn those statistics around is to ensure New Mexicans have the education sufficient to compete in the changing workforce, and that New Mexico’s local and state economies have real job opportunities for them – not more minimum-wage gigs, more food banks and more all-terrain vehicle helmets, examples of spending advocated by some groups.
New Mexico has ranked near the bottom of the Kids Count book for the two decades the survey has existed. It is important it continue the recent trend under Gov. Susana Martinez to invest not only in wisely targeted spending increases in early childhood programs, but also in long-term reforms in education and taxation that give children and parents the tools and work opportunities they need to change their well-being as well as the state’s.
This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.