NM needs to add to its early childhood education, care system - Albuquerque Journal

NM needs to add to its early childhood education, care system

If you could go back to 1997 and invest in Amazon, would you? Or Apple in 1980? Most of us don’t have the luck or insight to identify that narrow window of opportunity where a relatively small investment can produce enormous returns. Fortunately for us, when it comes to education, scientific discovery has thrown that magic window wide open. We now know that 80% of brain development for children occurs in the first three years of life and that, for every $1 we invest in high-quality early childhood programs and services, we receive up to $12 back in the form of lower dropout rates, better mental and physical health, reduced criminal justice system involvement, greater economic stability – the list goes on.

Armed with this knowledge, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s administration has made big changes to ensure future generations don’t suffer or struggle unnecessarily. We were one of the first states to reorganize all early childhood programs and services under a single Cabinet-level department; we implemented the most comprehensive child care assistance program in the nation, expanding free child care to a majority of working N.M. families; we doubled access to Pre-K; and, just this month, the governor announced a new grant to raise wages by $3 an hour for child care professionals, who are among the lowest paid workers in the economy. Today, New Mexico is the yardstick against which other states measure innovation and bold action toward building a world-class early childhood education and care (ECEC) system.

Our progress is revolutionary, but we have a long way to go. For generations, the ECEC system has been massively underfunded nationwide and, while New Mexico has made significant investments in early childhood, more investments are needed to secure a better future for our children. Lujan Grisham and the Legislature wisely created an Early Childhood Trust Fund to support the programs and services that children and families rely on, but the need in our state goes beyond any funding source we have yet established.

In 2021, the New Mexico Early Childhood Education and Care Department commissioned national experts to conduct a study to determine the true cost of fully funding a comprehensive, aligned and equitable system of high-quality early childhood programs and services that support the real needs of New Mexico children and families. We learned that, for every child and every family in New Mexico to have access to high-quality child care, Pre-K for 3- and 4-year-olds, home visiting services and early intervention for developmental delays, we need to invest at least $943 million annually by 2026. If we want to see New Mexico at the top of the rankings in child well-being, that is what it is going to take.

The good news is we don’t have to miss our window. If we protect our Early Childhood Trust Fund, if funding from the Land Grant Permanent Fund becomes available for early childhood, if we continue to advocate for our federal government to make bold investments in early childhood education and care, we can and we will build an ECEC system in New Mexico that will see all families and young children thriving.

Home » Opinion » Guest Columns » NM needs to add to its early childhood education, care system


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