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State early childhood department a smart move

Albuquerque Public Schools believes in creating a pathway to early childhood education and is in favor of an Early Childhood Education and Care Department at the state level.

The importance of early education and care of New Mexico’s youngest citizens is vital to the future success of our state and our country.

APS has a vested interest and an obligation to our community in the establishment of high-quality early education and the care of children starting before birth until children enter into the public schools. We look forward to collaborating with the new Early Childhood Education and Care Department in aligning educational and early care systems to support New Mexico’s families with young children.

We read the research, hear the statistics and understand that the first three years of a child’s life influences brain development and the pathway of a student’s academic career. In many high-poverty areas including our city and state, children are not kindergarten-ready. In addition, a parent’s poverty level and educational completion can be connected to inadequate literacy skills.

Pre-kindergarten is a way for our most vulnerable students to learn and grow. Participation in pre-K helps develop literacy and numeracy skills, language development, social-emotional skills, fine and gross motor development and soft skills.

In the last two years in particular, APS has concentrated heavily on early childhood programs necessary to educate students and support schools. The district has also created a plan for expansion. We have increased our preschool classrooms and our half-day programs to full days to better serve students and families. We collaborate with the city, CYFD, YDI and private service providers to create a variety of options for students around Albuquerque and Bernalillo County.

The need to provide families with support early in a child’s life has been recognized by local and state leadership, including Albuquerque Public Schools. APS has 56 sites serving about 2,500 three- and four-year-olds. This total includes Early Intervention programs like Developmental Preschool Programs. The city of Albuquerque provides 28 sites, Bernalillo County has 20 sites, and private service providers have 42 sites.

In school year 2018-19, 17% or 2,427 of the potential total 14,000 children ages 3 and 4 were served by APS.

Regions with lower-income and socio-economic families, such as the International District, serv(ed) 18% and the South Valley serv(ed) 22%, exceed(ing) the district level of service. This occurrence is primarily due to the current/previous early childhood funding system requiring low income as a key variable to qualify for program funding. As a result, there are service areas of the district with restricted access to early childhood programs – even though some of these areas have an increase in the population of 3- and 4-year-olds.

The district currently has projected approximately 6,700 4-year-olds not currently receiving pre-kindergarten services. The district sees these children as a priority; however, to serve all these students, the district would need 336 age-appropriate classrooms at 90 sites on 402,840 square feet with new playgrounds, parking, etc. costing over $100 million.

Development of a systemic state support system for early childhood needs urgency in its implementation. We support an upstream education and care model where prenatal, home visiting, infant and toddler and preschool programs implement the highest quality of services of child development and health support to every child in New Mexico. In a diverse state such as New Mexico with many children living in poverty and ma(n)y English learners, pre-school is not only vital but also essential. The state needs a consistent and equitable funding stream to provide services in a comprehensive, intentional way.

A new department devoted to early childhood education will coordinate efforts statewide to increase opportunities for all New Mexico children.

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