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Study: Big drop in early child centers

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Since 2010, 173 early child development centers around New Mexico have closed – 29 percent of them in Albuquerque – according to a study released Tuesday by PEOPLE for the Kids, a coalition of parents, early educators and early child center operators.

Coalition members blamed the low per-child reimbursement rate from the state Children, Youth and Families Department, as well as CYFD’s implementation of a new star rating system and accreditation standards for the centers.

The coalition report, quoting from a study produced by CYFD for the Legislative Finance Committee, said that “the average number of children receiving subsidy per year fell by 5,268,” between 2011 and 2014.

The CYFD subsidies are for children from lower income families.

Raquel Roybal, a coalition board member, accused the Martinez administration of a “double standard” for how it pays state contractors. “Early learning centers get paid at a loss, but every other kind of business makes a profit,” she said. “If you pave a road for the state, you make money, but if you educate a young child, under the Martinez administration, you lose money.”

The governor’s press secretary, Michael Lonergan, called the PEOPLE for the Kids report “completely inaccurate” and deferred additional questions to CYFD spokesman Henry Varela, who labeled it “misleading.”

Varela said it failed to mention that “207 new licensed child care centers opened their doors throughout New Mexico, creating a net increase of 40 licensed child care centers statewide since November of 2010” and resulting in 2,429 additional child-care slots.

Further, he said, the governor in July 2013 approved restoring the 4 percent in the subsidy rate that had been cut by the previous administration, and then increased the reimbursement rate for child-care providers by an additional 4 percent in January.

Roxanne Rosa, administrator of Our Montessori School in Albuquerque, said her school has a four-star rating out of a possible five under the Aim High program that CYFD uses to establish a school’s ranking, in addition to accreditation from a CYFD approved organization.

The star rating is also used to help determine a school’s reimbursement rate. Based on that, Rosa said her Montessori school gets reimbursed at $1.50 to $2.19 an hour for those students who get a CYFD child-care subsidy.

“That doesn’t even come close to our actual costs,” she said. “We’re looking for more input and communication from CYFD in how they determine the subsidy rates.”

The coalition report doesn’t indicate what the average or usual per-hour rate is.

Two years ago, CYFD began introducing a new program called Focus on Young Children’s Learning to determine the star ratings. At the same time, CYFD eliminated a number of previously approved accreditation organizations and now relies primarily on NAEYC, the National Association for the Education of Young Children, Rosa said.

NAEYC sets new standards that raise the teacher-to-student ratio, something that’s at odds with the Montessori philosophy of larger class sizes and more age mixing.

CYFD is phasing out Aim High “even as it says Focus is voluntary,” Rosa said. “But if I don’t get on board with Focus, I could lose my four-star status and be reclassified as two stars and wind up getting even less than the $1.50 to $2.19 an hour per subsidized student.”