In New Mexico, 2,308 children under the age of three are enrolled in Early Head Start programs, while 18 percent of 4-year-olds are enrolled in a state-funded early learning program. Over recent years, this number has steadily increased. It will do so again in the upcoming fiscal year as Republican Gov. Susana Martinez and the state Legislature have both championed early childhood education. While New Mexico currently provides a half-day pre-K program, this year’s state budget also included funding for a pilot full-day pre-K program. The average annual cost of center-based infant care in the state is $7,360.
- What the governor is saying: In her State of the State address on Jan. 21, 2014, Gov. Martinez noted that a focus of her education spending would be toward “making sure that every child is able to learn to read. We doubled funding for Pre-K, went from serving 4,600 students to almost 8,000. I am proposing another expansion this year.” When the governor signed the state’s fiscal year 2015 budget, which increased pre-K funding, she again highlighted how “we have invested heavily in public education and early childhood programs.”
- What’s happening in the Legislature: Attempts were made during this legislative cycle to tap the state’s land-grant endowment to help fund early childhood education, with the state Senate Finance Committee agreeing “early childhood education is a means to producing more high school and college graduates while cutting prison populations and welfare rolls.” While that particular funding plan was tabled and will likely be re-introduced in the 2015 legislative session, the Legislature and Gov. Martinez did approve a $28 million increase in funding for early childhood initiatives, including additional funding for home visiting, New Mexico Pre-K and other early literacy initiatives. After New Mexico’s state investment officer announced that the state’s endowments, including the Land Grant Permanent Fund, are now worth a record $19.6 billion, up from $14 billion in April 2010, many Democratic lawmakers “revived their long-running debate over whether some of the money should be spent on early childhood education.”
- Funding increases and additional support: New Mexico was among 20 states to expand enrollment in publicly supported pre-K programs between 2011-12 and 2012-13, increasing per-pupil funding by 13 percent. The fiscal year 2015 budget again increases overall early childhood education funding by 14 percent. A report from the New Mexico Legislative Finance Committee also found that the state spends “far more on child care than prekindergarten” even though pre-K programs “deliver more benefits and a greater return on taxpayers’ investment than state subsidized child care.” Both the Albuquerque Journal and Santa Fe New Mexican editorial boards argue that the state should use the report to make sure it is investing “more of its precious dollars in programs that show educational benefits,” such as pre-K and home visiting.