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Legislation threatens providers

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

Day care providers and educational professionals are closely watching this year’s legislative debate about early childhood programs, which could reshape New Mexico’s private child care industry.

Senate Bill 298, in particular, has many providers on edge, since the bill would place prekindergarten services for 4-year-olds under the Public Education Department, in effect transferring them out of private day care and into public schools. It’s part of a broad legislative effort to improve pre-K by expanding programs for New Mexico children in response to a landmark lawsuit that mandates more state spending on education in general and early childhood learning in particular.

Many providers and educators prefer a competing initiative, Senate Bill 22, that would consolidate pre-K and other early childhood services under a new Early Childhood Education and Care Department. That bill would leave pre-K services for 4-year-olds in the hands of private providers.

If SB 298 became law, it could cripple New Mexico’s private day care industry, since 4-year-olds represent a major chunk of the revenue earned by child care businesses, said Mercy Alarid, adjunct professor with Central New Mexico Community College’s Early Childhood Multicultural Education Program.

“In my estimation, if all 4-year-olds go to state-run schools, it would break early childhood education in the state,” Alarid said. “We’ve worked hard to get service providers the education and degrees they need to run these home day care and early childhood centers. For the state to say the government can do a better job negates the excellent job these providers do, and all the sacrifice, education and tears they’ve put in to build these businesses.”

That includes dozens of graduates from Crianza, CNM’s new early childhood business accelerator.

“The Crianza-assisted day cares would be the first to go,” said Alarid, who teaches participants in the accelerator. “They’re fledgling businesses.”

Crianza graduate Norma Estrada, who runs a home day care with nine children and a newly launched center in Barelas with 12 children, said 4-year-olds provide nearly 60 percent of her business.

“We would immediately lose more than half of our business, and we’d have to lay off at least two employees,” Estrada said. “I’m very worried.”

CNM Ingenuity, which oversees the college’s commercial endeavors including Crianza, is considering licensing the business accelerator curriculum to other higher education institutions across the state, Alarid said.

“If this bill goes through, we wouldn’t even need the Crianza program anymore,” Alarid said. “We’d just put it on the shelf.”

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