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Editorial: NM must ensure early education dollars deliver

In fiscal 2015, New Mexico will spend about $222 million on multiple early-childhood programs. So it’s important to make sure those millions are spent as wisely as possible with an eye toward what’s best for those children.

A new Legislative Finance Committee study puts the emphasis squarely on education, pointing out prekindergarten programs deliver more educational benefits and a greater return on taxpayers’ investment than state subsidized child care. The report, titled “LFC Results First: Evidence-Based Early Education Programs To Improve Education Outcomes,” shows in a stark graph which programs result in improved educational outcomes.

And which deliver less than nothing.

LFC Chairman Rep. Luciano “Lucky” Varela, D-Santa Fe, is correct that the report will help lawmakers prioritize early-childhood spending, and it is refreshing to hear his demand for “some outcomes in there.” But the fact remains that it’s not as simple as putting all childcare eggs in a Pre-K basket. That’s because Pre-K only serves around 10,000 four-year-olds for three hours a day, and subsidized child care goes to centers and homes licensed or registered with the state that serve children up to age 13 at whatever hours the center or home determine.

Yet the LFC report has some important guideposts for lawmakers to follow. In addition to making Pre-K a core component, with childcare as a wraparound where possible, it shows there should also be a concerted effort to get more of that childcare licensed at the state’s 4-star level, the only level that delivers improved educational results.

Kudos to the LFC for focusing on evidence-based programs regarding public money and public education. New Mexico’s taxpayers and youngest students both deserve programs that deliver “results first.”

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.