New Mexico has a jobs problem. We have high crime. We’re ranked 49th in the country for child well-being, showing how much our kids suffer. Our home was just ranked the second most stressed state in the nation.
These are tough issues, but there are solutions. Giving every kid the support and education they need through quality home visiting and consistent early childhood education programs not only improves lives, it’s one of the best investments for our money.
New Mexico has roughly $24 billion invested in Wall Street through the operation of four “Permanent Funds.” The goal of these funds is to act like an endowment; profits are both returned to Wall Street to grow them further and fund operations at our state government.
For the past two decades, however, there have been proposals to give some of the profits from those funds to quality Pre-K education. These are regularly blocked, as opponents of the plan argue that taking money from Wall Street now will hurt generations later. If quality education for all of our kids is done right, however, that argument doesn’t stand up.
Over time, our Wall Street investments generate roughly 7 percent per year for taxpayers. But other states and cities have shown that every dollar invested in kids actually gives a 13 percent return. How? The data is conclusive.
More support for kids before they entered kindergarten in Chicago cut child abuse and neglect in half, meaning less need for taxpayer funded social services.
All of this means safer communities. Decades long studies show that kids with Early Childhood support were 70 percent less likely to be arrested for a violent crime later in life, and 20 percent less likely to have spent time in jail. And government spends less money on prisons.
The benefits don’t stop there.
Home visiting programs, a critical part of any Early Childhood Program, are not only beneficial to kids. In Arizona, when parents participated they enrolled more and spent more time in their own educational programs. And when parents, especially moms, get more education they have higher family income levels and more stimulating homes for their kids.
Helping young children also increases wages when they grow up. A report by the Executive Office of the President in 2014 showed that adults who participated in quality early childhood programs increased their long term earnings so much that they were more than enough to cover the initial program costs.
And investing in kids isn’t just a better investment; its less risky. There are huge consequences to our budget when Wall St tanks, but investing in kids is recession proof. Better education, lower crime rates, and higher salaries don’t go away when stock market prices do.
Let’s be honest with ourselves. The massive amount of money we put in Wall St banks? It’s ours. We can decide what we want to do with it. Too often, though, we do things in New Mexico the same way we’ve always done it purely because we’ve always done it that way. This needs to change.
Using some of our money to support the youngest New Mexicans is morally right. It’s also fiscally prudent. Early childhood education works for kids, is great for parents, makes us safer, and helps our economy.
So what are we waiting for?
Bill McCamley is a State Representative from Las Cruces and candidate for NM State Auditor.