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.
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.