July 22, 2021

Early childhood education expansion could empower New Mexico women, advocates say

On August 1, New Mexico will expand early child care assistance to allow a family of four with a  nearly $93,000 yearly income eligible for assistance from the state, among other early childcare changes. Some have said the expansions to early childcare could empower women in New Mexico.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and Early Childhood Education and Care Department Secretary Elizabeth Groginsky announced earlier this month that, through funding from the federal American Rescue Plan, the state will expand who qualifies for early child care assistance.

Micah McCoy, ECECD communications director, told NM Political Report that the income requirement for state assistance for early childcare is currently 200 percent of the federal poverty level. For a family of four, that equals about $53,000 a year, he said.

He said that for quality childcare, a parent could pay, potentially, as much as $2,000 a month for two children. Under the current cut off, a family of four that earned $55,000 a year wouldn’t be eligible for state assistance and likely wouldn’t be able to afford $2,000 a month, he said.

“Parents drop out of the workforce or cobble something together bouncing around with grandma and a friend’s house or a lower quality child care situation,” McCoy said.

But for at least two-years, the state is increasing the eligibility to 350 percent of the federal poverty level. That equates into nearly $93,000 a year in annual salary for a family of four, McCoy said. The expansion will go into effect on August 1.

“For that same family of four, that income cap would be nearly $93,000 in household income. That gives that section of the workforce a lot more support to actually be able to access quality care,” McCoy said.

Related: NM expands early childcare subsidies

House Republicans told NM Political Report that New Mexico’s oil and gas industry are to be thanked.

“We are thankful for the oil and gas industry for continuing its long-term support of New Mexico children with substantial contributions to our education and childcare budgets, because without the base level financial support from the industry the Governor would not have the ability to expand childcare services with federal one-time funds. Our hope is that this industry is not dismantled by the Governor and Democrats because once the federal dollars are gone we are not confident that Democrats will be able to reverse their destructive economic policies and New Mexico children will suffer,” House Republican caucus spokesperson Matthew Garcia-Sierra wrote.

McCoy said that though the expansion in child care assistance eligibility currently has a time limit of two years, that could change. He said that if voters approve amending the permanent land grant fund in 2022 or if the state establishes a permanent federal source for the funding, the state could continue it past 2023.

“We think it’s important [to make] the New Mexico middle class eligible,” he said.

Women of color impacted the most

The family members who drop out of the workforce to care for others in the family are most often women, and that was particularly the case for women of color during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to an Institute for Women’s Policy and Research report

The recession created by the pandemic has at times been referred to as the “shecession” because women were overwhelmingly impacted by layoffs and shutdowns and the need for childcare, according to the report. Some of that is because women are more likely to hold low paying service sector and healthcare jobs that were affected by the economic downturn caused by the pandemic, the report states. But the rates of who was affected most show race as a factor as well as gender. Young Native women, Latina and Black women had the highest rates of disconnectedness from either school or work during the pandemic, according to the report. One in four Native American women and one in five Black or Latina women were disconnected from both school and work in 2020.

Early childcare centers were one industry hit hard by the pandemic. Natane Lim, a program manager at Central New Mexico Community College (CNMCC), which offers training and a fast-track associates degree program for early childcare educators, said COVID-19 had a big impact on early childcare.

“We heard this past year with COVID many centers couldn’t make it. They’re small businesses, people were furloughed. There were a lot of changes this past year. Some centers changed or closed,” she said.

According to data provided by ECECD, prior to the pandemic there were 753 child care centers open with a capacity of caring for 58,865 children across the state. Now there are 626 licensed childcare centers open with a capacity of 52,645 children.

Home-based centers also saw a loss during the pandemic. Prior to 2020, the state lost nearly 20 percent of its home-based childcare centers, with a decline from 1,544 to 1,238 such operations, according to ECECD data.

Lim said the outlook for jobs appears to be changing now that the state’s restrictions have lifted. She said she is posting job positions for CNMCC early childcare educator students.

Childcare expansion aids teachers

Amanda Gallegos, 34, is a single mom who is an education assistant at a Head Start school in Belen. She and her son share their home with Gallegos’ mother. She is attending CNMCC in the fast-track associate degree program in early childcare. Erin Radcliffe, who manages the fast-track program at CNMCC, said the program was designed for people like Gallegos who want to improve their wages by going back to school to earn an associate degree but who are working full time and, very often, are women of color who are heads of household with children of their own to juggle.

Gallegos said her mom takes care of her son on weekends so she can focus on her schoolwork. She said she expects to graduate next year. She said she feels the improvements to the industry in New Mexico are empowering to women of color.

“Educators do not get paid enough and when you don’t have a degree, it’s a lot less,” she said.

McCoy said part of the expansion is an increase in rates the state pays to providers and that money comes from a federal grant, which he said is permanent. For childcare providers who receive state subsidies, they can pay a better wage to their educators. The state also hopes that by improving the subsidies to childcare centers, more people will be interested in opening their own home-based centers, especially in “childcare deserts,” which are predominantly rural counties and areas where low-income families live, according to the public policy research and advocacy organization the Center for American Progress.

McCoy said the profit, or salary, for a person who opens a home-based center, which is “a big portion” of where families get childcare, is often around $13,000 or $14,000 after expenses.

“[It’s] not a great incentive to start those kinds of businesses,” he said. “We’re hoping it [the expansion] will affect the childcare deserts for making sense to start these businesses in these areas,” McCoy said.

The degree will enable Gallegos to move up to become a lead teacher in the classroom and that will enable her to earn a higher wage. Gallegos said that the expectation that early childcare educators are women has become so normalized that when parents ask about a teacher, the parents automatically use the “she” pronoun even if the parent hasn’t met the teacher yet.

According to the National Women’s Law Center, women of color are overrepresented in the childcare workforce. Nationally, 39 percent of childcare workers are Black and Latina women but the same two demographics make up 15 percent of the overall workforce.

Because Gallegos works with three to five-year-old children, she has a greater chance of earning more than $15 an hour for her work, according to a Center for the Study of Childcare Employment at the University of California, Berkeley, report. The CSCE researches and proposes policy. Early childcare workers who specialize in children three years of age and younger are more likely to earn less than $15 an hour, according to the report. Early childcare workers, on average, earn $10.72 an hour.

Gallegos said that she never intended to go into early childcare. While in college in her youth, she had other plans but “life happened,” and she “kind of got stuck,” but jumped into the workforce and “never looked back.”

Gallegos started working at a daycare center when her son was 2 years old. She said it paid better than the job she had at the time. When her son was three and started Head Start, she moved to a job at his Head Start school.

“If I hadn’t fallen into this field, that’s so hard, I don’t know,” she said when asked what else she might do for employment.