SANTA FE, N.M. — Our children need us! Almost $2 million was spent on the special election to establish a sugar-sweetened beverages tax for the purpose of supporting early childhood education for city of Santa Fe residents, only to see it defeated. The state Legislature has completed its special session with no additional funding for early childhood education.
Despite these setbacks, it is important to remember there are approximately 1,000 3- to 4-year-olds in the city of Santa Fe for whom quality early childhood education programs are not available.
Research on the long-term benefits of early childhood education has shown improved cognitive abilities, sociability, motivation and self-esteem, which resulted in higher graduation rates, reduced special education services, higher earnings, greater home ownership, decreased incarceration … . This not only benefits the children and their families, but also the entire community. Ongoing research is continuing by the National Institute of Early Education Research at Rutgers University, the Center for Pubic Education and others. Longitudinal data is essential to support and improve programs and outcomes.
Quality early childhood education must include parents and caregivers, and be aligned with K-12 standards. Parents are a child’s first teachers. They need to be involved in their children’s in- and out-of-home education. Not all parents have the opportunity to provide quality educational experiences for their children. Caregivers and pre-K program staff often have only minimal amounts of training and are among the lowest paid members of the workforce.
To ensure quality and success, training and education programs must be available and expanded for existing providers and others interested in careers in early childhood education, like the Santa Fe Community College program, and salaries must reflect their education and training, and the importance we place on their jobs. The increased availability of early childhood education programs will provide increased employment opportunities for Santa Fe residents.
What do we do now, those who supported and those who opposed the city ordinance (the “Soda Tax”)? The ordinance would have allowed for the establishment of an Early Childhood Commission, and the city would have been able to accept grants and other donations to support early childhood education. After the election, David Huynh of Better Way for Santa Fe and Pre-K was reported to have said, “Our coalition of local businesses and community organizations remains united in support of expanded pre-K, and we welcome the opportunity to work with the city and community to find better ways to fund this much-needed program.” We must not let the frustration of such huge efforts as the sugar tax battle, having failed to accomplish the goals we sought, reduce our commitment to ensure quality early childhood education programs for all our children. Now, more than ever, is the time for us to come together and work to find ways to bring this necessity to fruition.
There are things happening in Santa Fe where we can contribute and get involved. To name a few, there are United Way of Santa Fe County’s Kaune Kids Campaign; Communities in Schools; Santa Fe Community Foundation’s Dollars for Schools; Partners in Education Foundation for the Santa Fe Public Schools; and the Santa Fe Community College Kids Campus. Efforts to increase funding of early childhood education by tapping into the State Permanent Fund have been proposed by state legislators and others. This and other sources of funding for quality early childhood education need to be investigated and pursued.
We must let our support of quality early childhood education and public education at all levels for all be known now and take action.
Johnson is chair of the education committee of the Santa Fe NAACP.