Enhanced early childhood education works. There are lots of closely-reviewed studies that show that kids who start pre-school earlier and get more days and hours in a classroom do measurably better for at least the first two years in elementary school.
There is also plenty of published neuro-scientific data on why providing early childhood education is important – because the first 5 years are the most formative period of a person’s cognitive and social life.
Since 2005, it’s been the policy of the state of New Mexico to invest in early childhood programs, fostered by the state’s most powerful legislator, Sen. John Arthur Smith, Chair of the Legislative Finance Committee. Money for programs for children were on a steady upward slope till the 2015-16 crash of the oil and gas industry crushed the state budget. As petroleum revenues rise again, expanding investments in early childhood education look more possible.
But is the money being well-spent? And is it giving every kid in the state the same chance?
One place where early-childhood money is being squandered is in the Head Start program where federal money is being left on the table because the state’s program for 3 and 4 year olds competes rather than collaborates with the Feds.
Over the past 10 years, the rate of families in poverty in NM has gone up from 21 to 29%, and yet, the number of NM children enrolled in Head Start dropped by some 600. A lot of Head Start-eligible kids are getting their pre-school on the State’s dime.
But that’s not the worst thing about the state’s refusal to let state and Federal funds work together. In some places it segregates kids by family income…the really poor kids over here…everyone else, over here.
And the Big Picture is just as worse.
By the measurements of the most-respected monitors of the lives of America’s children and families – the Annie E. Casey Foundation, Education Week Magazine and Wallet Hub, New Mexico is just about the worst state in the country for kids to grow up in.
Over years of poor performance, only Mississippi ever threatens to beat NM in the race to the ratings bottom. Two terrible trends can be seen. 1) Being the worst or next-worst never seems to change for NM, and 2) in its worst-ness, NM is falling farther and farther behind.
If there’s a bootstrap out of this black hole of failure and punishment, it’s education.
The more you know, the more you can do to make New Mexico a more prosperous, successful place. The better prepared you are to learn, the more you’ll wind up knowing. The first tug of the bootstrap comes in pre-school.
Lauren Villagran has covered the financial and energy markets in New York, the drug war in Mexico and immigration and border security in New Mexico. Formerly the Albuquerque Journal’s border correspondent, she has also reported for the Associated Press, Dallas Morning News and Christian Science Monitor, among other national media. She is a graduate of Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism and is based in southern New Mexico for Searchlight NM. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.