Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal
SANTA FE – With New Mexico rebuilding its child care network amid the reverberations of the COVID-19 pandemic, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s administration is bringing preschoolers into some state government buildings.
The Democratic governor and top Cabinet officials on Monday opened the first on-site child care facility for state workers in Santa Fe.
The facility has slots for more than 40 children between the ages of 2 and 5 – a lottery system will be used to determine acceptance – with a smaller number of slots for even younger children at a different state building in the state’s capital city.
During a ribbon-cutting ceremony attended by a mix of curious toddlers, parents and state officials, Lujan Grisham said working parents need to have greater access to child care around the state.
“We didn’t have enough child care centers in 2019” and the pandemic has exacerbated the situation, said the governor, who last year raised New Mexico’s income eligibility threshold for child care assistance to the nation’s highest level.
One state employee whose daughter is enrolled in the new preschool program said he was grateful for the option.
“Finding quality, safe daycare is extremely difficult,” said Will Schettmann, an employee of the state Children, Youth and Families Department.
While Lujan Grisham said New Mexico’s child care efforts could make the state a pioneer of sorts nationwide, there are looming challenges that include a decrease in licensed child care centers around New Mexico after the start of the pandemic and limited capacity in many rural parts of the state.
In an attempt to expand the state’s early childhood workforce, the state in May launched a program offering stipends of up to $2,000 per semester for students enrolled in early childhood education programs at state colleges and universities.
In addition, the income eligibility expansion now means New Mexico families can qualify for free child care if they make up to 400% of federal poverty level – or currently $111,000 a year for a family of four.
That also applies to state employees whose children are enrolled in one of the new on-site programs, meaning many state workers will not have to pay for the provided child care.
Early Childhood Education and Care Secretary Elizabeth Groginsky said the state’s partnership with a licensed child care provider to run the new facility – the Rio Rancho-based Little Explorers Child Development Center – makes sense.
The agency used federal pandemic relief funds to renovate what had been largely empty office space in the Joseph Montoya Building into the new daycare facility.
“We know that state employees, like so many New Mexicans, struggle to find child care, especially in Santa Fe,” Groginsky said during Monday’s news conference.
She also described the model as one that could be replicated in other parts of the state.
Currently, New Mexico spends the 10th most per capita on prekindergarten of any state, and ranks 11th-best in pre-K access for 3-year olds and 13th-best in pre-K access for 4-year olds in the nation, according to the National Institute for Early Education Research.