May 26, 2023

ECECD will soon see a nearly 68 percent increase in funding

Jennifer Martinez, an early childcare worker, talks to a reporter about her experiences in the industry at a Kelly's Learning Center in Las Cruces.

On July 1, a constitutional amendment to increase the distribution from the Land Grant Permanent Fund t toward educating the state’s youngest children goes into effect.

The amendment, approved by voters last fall, would draw an additional 1.25 percent from the fund.

Along with money from the state’s general fund, the Early Childhood Education and Care Department will receive $327.6 million for Fiscal Year 2024, a nearly 68 percent increase in funding over Fiscal Year 2023. The department will receive another $120 million from the early childhood trust fund to increase childcare assistance, tribal early childhood services and workforce supports, according to a report compiled by ECECD and the interim Legislative Finance Committee. ECECD Secretary Elizabeth Groginsky gave a presentation before the interim Legislative Finance Committee this week to update the committee on her department’s spending and programs.

With the increased funding for FY24, the home visiting program will grow to $28.3 million. Growing the home visiting program will allow the state to leverage federal Medicaid dollars for the program and, thus, reach more families, according to the report.

The report says that with FY24, ECECD can expand pre-Kindergarten for three- and four-year-old children by increasing the number of instructional hours and include wrap-around care. According to the report, most four-year-old children in New Mexico receive at least some type of early education through childcare assistance, pre-K or Head Start.

New Mexico now ranks 10th in the nation for its funding on pre-K, according to the National Institute for Early Education Research.

State Sen. Bobby Gonzales, D-Ranchos de Taos, asked Groginsky if she feels ECECD will have adequate funding with the increases for FY24.

Groginsky said the state has “adequate funding going from 900 to 1,080 instructional hours.”

“We will be at scale for four-year old pre-K. For three-year-olds, we’re hoping to get to 50 percent. Home visiting is not at scale. We need to build that infrastructure…. We won’t be at scale for early childcare. We don’t have all the supply we need to meet the needs of families,” she said.

The state began funding a pre-K program starting in 2012, LFC Analyst Kelly Klundt told the committee. She said researchers have studied that initial cohort through high school. She said that the research shows that low-income children who receive pre-K show measurable increases in math and reading proficiency and fewer receive a special education designation.

Previous LFC research found that participation in pre-K corresponds to a 10 percent increase in college entrance, according to the report.

Groginsky focused on home visiting and pre-Kindergarten education in her presentation. She said one of the biggest challenges is attracting new parents to the home visiting program.

She said the department has a variety of initiatives, including baby showers held around the state. The department gives out free diaper bags with various baby essentials to new parents and expecting parents, along with information about ECECD’s program at the baby showers. The first one took place in Española in mid May. Four more are planned in different New Mexico cities in the coming weeks.

Hospitals also give out a one-page welcome baby information sheet to outline ECECD programs, she said. Groginsky said parents may not sign up at first, but the department’s goal is for new parents to “hear about it repeatedly.” The department also relies on referrals.

“We know it’s going to take a lot to reach all families across New Mexico,” she said.

She said the program’s intent is not to stigmatize families.

“It’s not to be judgmental. It’s to connect you with other resources, early intervention. There are incredible stories like a family who found out their child has autism and got support,” she said.

Klundt said another issue the department sees are families who initiate home visiting but drop out after the first few visits. 

“They’re only receiving the services for the first three months. They’re not receiving the full curriculum…we don’t want to keep families in it if they don’t need it but given how many high-risk families we have in the state, a lot of families need it,” she said.

State Rep. Pamelya Herndon, D-Albuquerque, said some new parents may “be concerned about people coming into the home, trustworthiness.” She asked how ECECD interacts with new parents from different demographic groups, such as Native American and Black communities.

Groginsky said the department is trying to hire individuals who look like the communities they serve. To give an example, she said ECECD has partnered with an organization in the Asian community in Albuquerque recently because “we’re not serving them well.”

She said “we have to continue to work on that.”

But Groginsky said that with the additional funding for FY24, “we’ll be able to do creative things,” and that the department would “have to be creative and be in the communities.”

State Rep. Joanne Ferrary, D-Las Cruces, asked if ECECD has been working with high school students. She said that in southern Doña Ana County, there are high school students who are staying home to take care of younger siblings. She asked if ECECD is helping employers include childcare in regions where there are childcare deserts.

Groginsky said ECECD is meeting with the heads of various chambers of commerce around the state to discuss this issue. She said she would love to see those high school students be able to earn dual credits while in high school so that when they graduate from high school, they would simultaneously receive an associate degree and a certificate in early childcare.

One issue that brought the ire of some Republicans on the committee is a proposal regarding gross receipts tax. The department has proposed regulations that will, among other things, eliminate the GRT for families receiving state assistance when they pay for early childcare. The state is proposing to include the cost of the GRT in its proposed rate increases so families on state assistance do not have to pay GRT.

State Sen. William Sharer, R-Farmington, said “this whole tax policy thing, it’s twisted my mind.”

The public has until 11 a.m. on June 22 to comment on the proposed regulation changes. A public hearing will also be held from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. on June 22 in Santa Fe.

State Rep. Meredith Dixon, D-Albuquerque, asked about declines in math and literacy for FY21 and FY22.

Klundt said the cause was COVID-19.

“Pre-K didn’t happen in the classrooms during Covid. It was delivered online for an hour or two a week. That’s very different from a full week of care; far less services and virtual,” Klundt said.