RIO RANCHO, N.M. — Regardless of your political leaning and early impressions of new Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, the well-being of the state’s children should encompass both sides of the proverbial aisle.
In case you missed it, the national Kids Count Data Book revealed New Mexico is ranked 50th in the nation for child well-being.
In other categories, when New Mexico wasn’t 50th, it ranked 48th or 49th: The state was 50th in education, 50th in the family and community domain, but 49th in economic security and 48th in health.
There were a few bright spots in the data, among them the child poverty rate dropping slightly from 30 percent in 2018 to 27 percent in this year’s report. And the teen birth rate improved to 28 births for every 1,000 females ages 15-19 (2017 data) from 60 births per 1,000 female teens (2009 data).
“Fiftieth place is unacceptable,” Lujan Grisham told the 500 or so attendees at the seventh annual Kids Count Conference in Albuquerque on June 26.
We wholeheartedly agree — but we may have to settle for that for a while.
As Lujan Grisham admitted, improvement takes a lot of time. Let’s face it: Low rankings in these categories have been a trend for the Land of Enchantment.
Lujan Grisham said the state needs to “take stock of what has worked and what is working — we do not simply accept the status quo.
“Rankings aren’t the whole story,” she said.
New Mexico can work hard to improve in all of those categories and not expect to improve in the rankings.
After all, do states like Mississippi and Alaska, who rank just above New Mexico in a couple categories, sit back and say, “Yeah, we’re 49th, but at least we’re not New Mexico?” Of course not; those states will try to improve as well.
“Let’s start with education,” Lujan Grisham suggested, and we agree with that, too.
Getting the state’s 3- and 4-year-olds a head start on education is critical, but don’t think it has to start in a preschool.
Mothers, fathers and even older siblings need to help those younger kids get interested in learning: Read to them; play learning games with them; help them acquire social skills.
Senate Bill 22 led to the creation of the Early Childhood Education and Care Department, virtually four early-childhood education programs created with a $1.25 million appropriation for the new fiscal year. Toss in a 6 percent pay raise for public school employees, an increase in the at-risk factor in the education funding formula and professional development and training for teachers who serve diverse populations — such as here in the City of Vision.
That’s all part of a good start on the education priority.
Keeping our youth out of jails and prison is another important goal; New Mexico is one of 15 states that spend more on incarceration than education. How can being on the wrong side of the law appeal to anyone?
Parents, know what’s going on with your kids; keep them fed, going to school, making the right choices. Our adolescents need to stay focused and do well in school and stop smoking, vaping and abusing drugs — and the education component will increase.
“The greatest truth must be the recognition that in every child is the potential for greatness,” said Amber Wallin, deputy secretary of NM Voices for Children. “We’re all in this together.”
We heartily agree: New Mexico is a great state to live in, and it can only be better with less poverty, a better-educated populace, less hunger and less crime.