Children who have a strong start in life have a much better chance of lasting success. One of the best ways to give them a strong start is by providing high-quality early childhood education, which gives low-income kids a chance to break the cycle of poverty and ensures equal opportunity for all.
That’s why Save the Children Action Network is endorsing (U.S. Rep.) Michelle Lujan Grisham for governor. As the political voice of Save the Children, our focus is on advocating for policies that provide high-quality early learning for all children. With Lujan Grisham’s plan to make access to high-quality public Pre-K a reality for every N.M. family, it is clear she recognizes the benefits of high-quality early education and the far-reaching impacts it can have today and for years to come.
Early education, starting at birth and continuing until a child’s first day of school, is a critical window for ensuring future academic achievement and overall well-being. But that window closes fast. By investing resources now on quality early learning programs, such as preschool, research indicates we will save much more money later because we will pay less for prisons and social services and will have lower crime rates in our communities.
By age 5, a child’s brain is almost completely developed, yet only three out of five children are enrolled in quality early childhood education programs that foster healthy brain development and give them an equal chance at success. At just 2 years old, children from low-income families can already be up to six months behind other kids in language development. The gap grows over time, and many never catch up. Studies show low-income kids who don’t participate in high-quality early education are 60 percent less likely to attend college, 70 percent more likely to be arrested for a violent crime.
In contrast, there are strong social and economic benefits to high-quality early childhood education programs. Research from Nobel Prize-winning economist James Heckman has found the rate of return on investment in early childhood development for many children can be 13 percent per child, per year, due to improved outcomes in education, health, sociability and economic productivity. Despite this fact, for years the state Legislature has actively debated how to pay for it. New Mexico needs these smart investments in our children that Lujan Grisham supports so we can reverse some of the harmful trends that we’re seeing in the state.
While the number of children living in poverty in the U.S. decreased from 2015 to 2016, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, New Mexico experienced the opposite trend last year. The state saw a 1 percent increase in poverty from 2016 to 2017, which means 30 percent of New Mexico children live in poverty today.