ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — For early childhood specialist Mary Dudley of Albuquerque, the necessity of addressing early childhood in New Mexico “has been urgent for 25 years, at least.”
“It’s not too much to say that it’s a tragedy that we have taken so long to understand just how much happens in the first years of life and to really think about what we could as a state do, get kids off to a better start.
“This discussion goes on and on and on, and as it goes on, it’s as if children are going to stand by the sidelines and wait for us. But we’ve now lost 20 years or more of kids, and it looks like the results are what would have been predicted.”
According to the 2013 National Kids Count Data Book, compiled by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, New Mexico slipped to 50th in overall child well being this year.
Other data shows:
- Nearly 80 percent of fourth-graders in the state aren’t proficient in reading.
- New Mexico college graduation rates are among the lowest in the country.
- New Mexico children’s chances for success have been deemed among the worst in the nation.
The more adverse childhood experiences occur from birth to 3 years old, the greater the chance children will develop cognitive, emotional, social and physical development problems.
The largest student achievement gaps in New Mexico are strongly associated with poverty and language, according to the state Legislative Finance Committee staff. With more 30 percent of children living in poverty in New Mexico, many children show up to kindergarten already behind.
Early childhood development programs are linked to improved productivity and success in later life, and reductions in spending on special education, remedial education, teenage pregnancy, criminal justice and welfare assistance, according to national research.
The return on investment is estimated at $4 to $9 per every dollar spent, according to University of Chicago economist James Heckman, a Nobel laureate.
“I don’t think there’s any argument against going in a different direction and trying to see if what all these economists say isn’t true in New Mexico,” said Dudley, who is a consultant for the city of Albuquerque’s pre-K programs.