When children have access to opportunities they need to grow up healthy and reach their full potential, we all benefit. Thanks to rigorous scientific research, we know that children who have access to high-quality, full-day pre-kindergarten do better. They read earlier, are better prepared for school, and are more likely to graduate and perform better over the long term. By investing in pre-K, we will spend less money in the long term on special education, poverty and jails – and we will ensure our children can compete in tomorrow’s economy.
That’s the promise of high-quality universal pre-K. If we invest now, we offer New Mexico’s children the best chance to succeed – a promise every child in New Mexico deserves. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham knows this – she’s a fierce advocate for universal pre-K and campaigned on its promise. With an equitable and stable growth plan, she has stated we can get to universal pre-K within five years. That means almost 14,000 new pre-K seats for New Mexico’s children.
Fewer than half of all 3- and 4-year-olds in New Mexico are enrolled in preschool. New Mexico offers pre-K services in both public schools and private early-care facilities. While the two types are fairly comparable, the salaries are not. Pre-K teachers at public schools are paid the same salary as K-12 teachers, have the same employee benefits and are required to have specific education credentials. That matters, because the level of pre-K quality is largely determined by teacher education.
New Mexico’s private pre-K providers are valuable partners who also provide mostly high-quality pre-K. However, teachers in most private centers are paid low wages – so low they often rely on food stamps and Medicaid.
Wages need to be part of the universal pre-K conversation because we need professional and educational standards to be aligned to the highest quality, regardless of whether a child is in a public or private program. In New Mexico, the highest standards are at the public schools. Therefore, if we want to achieve universal pre-K where every child benefits from a high-quality classroom, we have to have a conversation about the true costs of providing high-quality classrooms in every corner of the state.