February 1, 2018

Funding early childhood education is a moral issue

Each year, the New Mexico Legislature debates the issues that influence whether children receive the tools they need to make better lives for themselves, that decide our state’s economic future, and that create the moral fabric of our lives here together in our beautiful state.

Bills are not simply jumbles of text on paper that restrict or liberate us, each bill (and the support or opposition it draws) stakes out a moral position that reveals priorities.

There’s no better example of this moral question about our laws than the yearly push for more smart investments in early childhood care and education using the $17 billion Land Grant Permanent Fund.

All of our discussions about the future economic prosperity of our children (and our state more generally) are bound up in how we treat their early learning. It’s an indisputable fact that the earlier children begin learning, the better learners they become as they age. When children are better prepared to learn and work when they reach primary school, for example, the better their grades will be, the better their job prospects will be, etc. It’s a logical equation.

And so the next step in that equation is: How to better prepare our kids earlier in life? The answer is: smart investments in early childhood education. The best way that advocates, researchers, parents, and community leaders have determined New Mexico can do that is by investing 1% from our more than $17 billion Land Grant Permanent Fund in early childhood learning.

Several Democratic members in the New Mexico House have taken up serious investments in early childhood education and become champions for our youngest children. But the Governor fails to lead on this issue–it’s a conscious decision to put her political ideology ahead of a strategic investment in our children that will benefit our entire state in the long run. And there are still legislators on both sides of the aisle who oppose the push to care for our youngest children and ensure they have bright futures each year.

The money that House Joint Resolution 1 would provide to our youngest kids would give them more and better access to the kinds of classrooms and teachers a world-class education is built on.

We all know that New Mexico’s families struggle to keep up and our children often pay too big of a price for that. We’ve all heard the statistics. If our children truly are the future, their future is determined by the investments we make in them today. New Mexico has the highest childhood poverty rate in the nation, but early childhood programs help change the game for children who face adversity and prepare them for success that can end the cycle of poverty. Why wouldn’t we take that opportunity? Let’s work to invest in our kids now, so that our state has a better outlook in the future.

Amanda Gibson Smith is the director of Doña Ana County Head Start and currently serves as the president of the NM Head Start Association.