June 15, 2023

Report: New Mexico improving, but still ranks at bottom for child well being

New Mexico continues to rank at the bottom in the annual Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Kids COUNT data book, but the state has seen considerable improvement in many areas over the last 10 years, Amber Wallin, executive director of New Mexico Voices for Children, said.

New Mexico placed last in the 2023 annual ranking that comes out every summer from the nonprofit organization Annie E. Casey Foundation. But Wallin said that the state is outpacing the nation in its overall progress and in several individual categories. She said that as the state has improved, so have other states in individual categories and that states such as Vermont or Pennsylvania have “very different challenges than we do.”

Two other problems hamper New Mexico’s rankings. One is that the data comes from 2021, in which COVID-19 pandemic challenges still impacted families and many legislative policies that are likely to improve the rankings had not been put into place yet. In addition, Wallin said that many of the state policies recently implemented will create generational change and New Mexico might not see the real impacts of some recent policy changes until children under the age of five now have kids of their own.

The Kids COUNT data book emphasized child care as a priority that needs to be better addressed nationally in order to improve overall child well being. Wallin said 90 percent of brain growth happens in the first five years.

She said that with recent policy changes in funding for early childcare and education, “New Mexico really shines” in that area now.

“We’re getting national attention and we’re being lifted up nationally,” she said as a state that is expanding its funding for early childcare and education.

But, most of those policies are quite recent. The additional distribution of funding from the Permanent Land Grant Fund, for example, goes into effect on July 1. The Early Childhood Education and Care Department recently reported it will experience a 68 percent increase in funding for Fiscal Year 2024.

Related: ECECD will soon see a nearly 68 percent increase in funding

Since 2010, New Mexico has seen a 20 percent improvement in child poverty. New Mexico students not graduating high school on time has improved by 38 percent since 2010. The number of New Mexico children who lack health insurance has improved by 45 percent and teen births in the state have improved by 64 percent since 2010.

But the state ranks 50th in the nation for fourth grade reading and eighth grade math proficiency, even though the pandemic impacted both reading and math proficiency for all states.  Wallin said there is “a lot to be done in this area.”

The state came in at 49th for teens who are neither working nor enrolled in school and in high school students not graduating on time.

Wallin also highlighted some recent New Mexico tax policy change which replaced a temporary federal child tax credit available to qualifying families for the last six months of 2021. New Mexico replaced that temporary federal policy in the 2022 legislature with a state tax credit that allows for up to $600 per child annually for qualifying families.

Wallin said New Mexico was one of the first five states in the nation to make that state child tax credit available.

She also pointed to the ECECD’s efforts to expand early childcare education, expand pre-K and expand home visiting for new parents.

Wallin said New Mexico Voices for Children would like to see the state “continue to keep up its investments in kids and families.”

“The key is we don’t stop now. We continue to look at the long view. We continue to find new areas,” she said, adding that one could be increasing child educator pay.

She said it’s also important for the state to diversify its economy to avoid the boom and bust budget cycles impacted by the boom and bust nature of oil and gas revenue.

“We want to diversify the economy so we have financial resources to invest in programs now and well into the future,” she said.