SANTA FE – Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said Wednesday that New Mexico must “look poverty in the face” and work to expand public services – with help from philanthropic groups – to lift the state out of its last-place national rankings.
Her remarks came after an analysis released by the Annie E. Casey Foundation last week ranked New Mexico last in the nation for child well-being in 2018, the state’s third 50th-place ranking in seven years. The evaluation examined the percentage of children in poverty, the share of fourth graders proficient in reading and a variety of other factors.
“We will look poverty in the face,” Lujan Grisham said in the keynote address at the annual Kids Count Conference in Albuquerque. “… It is an evil in our state, and it must be dealt a death blow.”
Lujan Grisham spoke to about 500 people gathered for the conference, organized by the nonprofit New Mexico Voices for Children.
The national rankings, she said, “are not indicative, however, of who we are, and they are not indicative of what we are capable of. I unequivocally reject the notion that this is the way it will be because this is the way it has been.”
Lujan Grisham, a Democrat who took office Jan. 1, said New Mexicans have reason for optimism. The state will ramp up education spending in the next academic year by 16 percent, or about $446 million.
Much of the money, Lujan Grisham said, will be dedicated to efforts to extend learning time for students and other programs that have shown strong results when carried out correctly.
Furthermore, she said, she hopes to organize efforts by philanthropic groups and public agencies to get groceries to hungry New Mexicans, especially children.
“Every single person can do something,” she said.
In the meantime, she said, the state shouldn’t sugarcoat its problems.
It has kept her up at night, Lujan Grisham said, since she learned that the state Children, Youth and Families Department receives hundreds more referrals based on child abuse and neglect allegations than it has the staff to handle. The problem, she said, is being addressed by expanded hiring efforts to boost staffing and other temporary measures.
“Being 50th in anything is unacceptable,” the governor said, “but when our children are at risk – it makes me sick in the pit of my stomach.”