Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal
New Mexico is already in the midst of an effort to improve educator diversity in K-12 education.
When it comes to early childhood education and care, state officials are hoping to do the same thing.
Last week, the Early Childhood Education and Care Department announced $7 million in endowment grants to seven colleges and universities – all aimed at strengthening the state’s pipeline for a diverse early childhood workforce.
Almost $6 million of that total was split evenly between five colleges and universities, including the University of New Mexico, New Mexico State University and Central New Mexico Community College.
Many of those dollars are going to hire faculty members who will help attract more diverse students in early childhood education and care programs.
The early childhood department doesn’t have data about the current demographics of people working in the field, department Secretary Elizabeth Groginsky said, adding that the department is in the midst of building information systems to collect it.
But staff frequently hear concerns from families that programs don’t “represent or understand their culture and their language needs” – particularly when it comes to Spanish-speaking and Indigenous families.
“What we do know is that especially in the area of dual language learners, multilingual learners … families feel their choices are very limited if they want their child to be in an early care and education program where Spanish is spoken,” she said.
San Juan College, in Farmington, was awarded a $607,000 grant that officials say they’ll use to recruit 125 Indigenous and bilingual students over five years.
Part of how they’ll do that is by recruiting students who want to return to serve in their home communities, and by hiring a faculty member who’ll help teach students how to bring multicultural learning into their communities, Early Childhood Education Director Alexis Esslinger said.
“If we can provide that access, and eliminate barriers, then we can also get them well prepared to teach in their home communities,” she said.
The early childhood department already has several initiatives aimed at improving their pipelines, Groginsky said, including $1,500 incentives to bilingual candidates.
The department is also pushing providers to give $3 per hour pay raises to early childhood workers, many of whom are currently being paid about $12 per hour.
That’s initially being funded with $77 million from the federal American Rescue Plan Act, but in the future could be paid for with money from a constitutional amendment passed on Tuesday. That measure increased the annual distribution from the permanent school fund for early childhood education.
Higher Education Secretary Stephanie Rodriguez said that developing a diverse pipeline creates a feedback loop that helps young students eventually become early childhood educators themselves after being taught by people who come from similar cultural backgrounds.
“Representation in our classroom is critical to ensuring that our students are successful in every facet in their life,” she said.