Let voters decide on funding for early learning services

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Maria A. Flores

Maria A. Flores

The proposal to increase early childhood education funding is a chance to make a huge difference in the futures of tens of thousands of New Mexico children.

The Legislature has a unique opportunity to turn around the disturbing trends we are so tired of hearing about. I, for one, no longer want to read about how New Mexico ranks at the bottom for so many important indicators of our children’s academic, health and economic future.

As a parent, teacher and school board member, I have been involved for years in efforts to deal with closing the achievement gap and other critical issues facing our schools. Finally, we see a solution proven by science — if we will only grasp it.

There is now a huge body of evidence that children’s success in school, and even their success later in life, is greatly improved by investing in early learning services — especially programs that include active involvement by parents.

We have a unique opportunity in New Mexico to act on this evidence. Even though we are a poor state with lots of challenges, we have the second-highest Land Grant Permanent Fund in the country — currently valued at over $10 billion. It has grown over time at an average rate of 10 percent per year. Next year, the distribution (mostly to the public schools) is set at 5.5 percent, and is scheduled to decline to 5 percent.

The Legislature is considering SJR 9 and HJR 15, which place a state constitutional amendment on the ballot to increase the distribution by 1.5 percent to invest in high-quality early childhood educational programs. The increased distribution would last for 10 years, during which the results will be carefully evaluated. All of the evidence suggests that it will be an excellent investment, both educationally and fiscally.

Public supports it; evidence is compelling

This is a chance to make a huge difference in the quality of New Mexico’s educational system and in the futures of tens of thousands of New Mexico children. Polls show that more than 70 percent of the public supports this idea — all kinds of people who live in all areas of the state and vote for different parties.

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The evidence is compelling. The prestigious journal Science devoted an entire issue to these findings last summer. The largest study to date followed 1,400 children from birth to age 28 who participated in a program that taught children ages 3 and 4 and involved their parents to foster language arts and math skills as well as self-confidence and social interaction skills.

Over 20 years later, evidence shows that these children:

  • had significantly higher educational achievement.
  • were significantly more likely to graduate from high school on time.
  • were more likely to attend college.
  • earned higher incomes at age 28.
  • had much lower involvement with the criminal justice system.
  • were less likely to engage in substance abuse.

The science of early learning

Studies conclusively show that major economic and social problems in America and New Mexico — crime, teen pregnancy, high school drop-out rates, adverse health conditions — can be traced to low levels of social skills such as attentiveness, persistence and impulse control. When social skills are taught at an early age, along with cognitive skills, citizens are more capable and productive well into adulthood. Developing these skills is a major objective of early childhood education programs — and many studies now show that they work!

Nobel Prize-winning economics professor James Heckman is well-known for his extensive studies of the economic returns of investing in early learning. The payoff ranges between 7 percent and 10 percent per year over the life of the child — significantly higher than the 5.8 percent long-term growth of the average stock market investment.

That’s why I ask our legislators to do what their constituents want, what scientists and economists inform us, and what provides the opportunity to every New Mexico child to reach their potential. Please support SJR 9 and HJR 15 and allow the citizens of New Mexico to vote on seizing this remarkable opportunity.

Flores is the vice president of the Las Cruces Public Schools Board of Education and a member of the Doña Ana County Reading Foundation Board.

3 thoughts on “Let voters decide on funding for early learning services

  1. It seems that there is a problem with anti-donation laws that would prevent any of the early childhood education money going to private child-care facilities. All new money would have to go to public school systems that seemingly do not have the space, staff or organisation to offer new early-education (pre-K) opportunities.

  2. I couldn’t agree with Ms. Flores any more!
    However I am a bit concerned as there is a rumor that when the House Judiciary passed HJR15 they removed the language “pursuant to contracts between the state and private entities.” This would mean that only PED early childhood programs would be eligible for the influx of money. The bill was sponsored with the intent of the early learning professionals, with special emphasis on those that have acheived national accreditation for their practices, that already provide these services to have a consistent funding source. Currently child cares subsidies have been stagnant since 2001, with eligibility requirements become stricter, less families qualify for services. Early childhood providers have been operating on 2011 prices with a 2001 budget, and still striving to put the children first. If in fact the House committee changed the language of the bill, and only PED will benefit from the change then support for this will certainly fall. PED has DD-Pre and headstart that already have phenomenal funding compared to other programs, but PED also does not have the infrastructure to expand to include the youngest children. They need to focus on the children they have, and allow those in the industry the financial opportunity to perform. Studies show that when the proper emotional bonds are created between birth and 2 years, the educational aspects multiply exponentially throughout life. It has also been said for every dollar invested in early learning programs it saves up to $7 later in life.

    Heath, the legislative site has not updated the bill on HJR15 since the judicary committee passed it, any way you can shed light on what was actually passed? we have conflicting information; EEU which is a branch of AFT and heavily invested in the passing is saying everything is fine and keep supporting. Sources from the CYFD side say the language was removed and only PED will benefit. 

  3. Maria’s approach makes much more sense than the Governor’s idea of punishing third graders by holding them back. One of my grandchildren attended a preschool. The teachers there observed that his social skills had not developed and suggested he be held back a year. That extra year at preschool allowed him, a shy child, to grow socially. I don’t think he would be a junior in college now if he hadn’t had early intervention. Reading skills are built on a variety of issues (I am not an educator), but a home where reading is encouraged from babyhood on is the best tool. Our three adult children went to Story Hour, had books available, were read to by both mother and father and observed their parents reading daily. The Reading Foundation of Dona Ana County is dedicated to children being read to at home – at least 20 minutes a day – a program that works.