New Mexico, for the third year running, remained 49th out of 50 states for child well-being, though there were some improvements, according to the latest Kids Count Data Book survey from the Annie E. Casey Foundation.
The report, released Tuesday, reveals that New Mexico is faring worse than ever on education and child poverty compared to the rest of the nation, sliding to 50th on both for the first time. But there were strides on the rates of teen drug and alcohol abuse, low birth weight babies and uninsured children, which bumped the state from 48th to 44th for health outcomes.
“We can give a lot of the credit for this improvement on the fact that New Mexico chose to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act,” said Amber Wallin, MPA, New Mexico Kids Count director. “Some 35,000 kids who were already eligible for Medicaid but who were not signed up received insurance when their parents enrolled. States that didn’t expand Medicaid didn’t see such a dramatic increase in children with health insurance. It just goes to show that public policies can lead to dramatic improvements for our children.”
Veronica C. García, executive director of New Mexico Voices for Children, which runs the state’s Kids Count program, noted that “some of our success is overshadowed by the fact that other states are seeing more significant improvement. Once again, New Mexico is falling behind.”
That struggle is also reflected in the education and child poverty rankings. New Mexico actually saw preschool attendance increase and child poverty dip slightly, but couldn’t keep up with the rest of the nation and dropped to the bottom of the rankings.
The Data Book measures states on 16 indicators grouped under four domains: economic well-being, education, health, and family and community. Overall, only Mississippi performed worse than New Mexico. Both states consistently struggle on nearly every measure of educational success.
The issue generates heated debate and a wide variety of proposed solutions.
New Mexico Public Education Department spokesman Robert McEntyre highlighted his administration’s push for an end to “social promotion,” calling the Data Book survey “yet another reminder that Senate Democrats need to embrace reform and end the failed practice of passing our kids from grade to grade when they cannot read.”
On the other side, American Federation of Teachers New Mexico President Stephanie Ly laid the blame squarely with the Gov. Susana Martinez’s and Secretary of Education Hanna Skandera’s “six years of failed education policy.”
“We’re dead last in education, and the governor and secretary have yet to realize they are solely responsible for the results in today’s report,” Ly said.
To García, the key is tackling child poverty, which she considers the survey’s most important measure because it is intertwined with every other problem. Effective early childhood education can improve outcomes for low-income kids, she said, leading to better test scores, graduation rates and college readiness.