July 20, 2023

At White House, governor highlights New Mexico’s early childhood education improvements

The White House South facade. Wikicommons

During a keynote address at the White House on Wednesday, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced an expansion of Pre-K programs with money from the state’s land grant permanent fund’s additional distribution of 1.25 percent.

Lujan Grisham spoke during an event called White House States Convening on Child Care, during which several policy makers and leaders—including First Lady Jill Biden—spoke about the importance of early childhood education and early childcare. During her speech, Lujan Grisham said the state would spend $100 million to increase the number of children served by more than 3,000. Lujan Grisham said her goal is universal early childcare.

“That’s another 3,000 kiddos that are three years old that are going to go to early childcare education. I want every three-and four-year-old, to say,  no matter where they live, they have high quality access,” she said.

New Mexico Early Childhood Education and Care Department Elizabeth Groginsky said the $100 million is part of the $140 million the legislature appropriated to the ECECD from the Land Grant Permanent Fund for Fiscal Year 2024. In November, voters approved the constitutional amendment that increased the additional distribution from the Land Grant Permanent Fund by 1.25 percent.

Groginsky told NM Political Report the money would be spent on better compensation for early childcare workers, more instructional hours for children and more children served. 

Lujan Grisham also spoke about New Mexico being a state with significant poverty and how that impacts children’s lives. 

“We have too many children that have any number of traumas or issues in development,” she said.

When speaking about universal early childcare, Lujan Grisham said New Mexico still has challenges, including early childcare deserts. But, she said she intends to change that.

Groginsky told NM Political Report that with federal relief money and a partnership with the New Mexico Finance Authority, ECECD created $11 million in grants to supply childcare center building, particularly in rural areas. She said the department is projected to add 2,000 more spaces for children across the state through the funding. 

“We did focus the grant on targeting areas of great need where there is no childcare available,” Groginsky said.

Groginsky said that to meet the needs of those who live in early childcare deserts, the department has been working with some local school districts to potentially license their school buildings to house early childcare centers. She said the department has also talked to businesses interested in relocating to the state about how to build childcare into the business’ planning process. 

Groginsky said the department is now basing its reimbursement rates to early childcare centers on the true cost of care. She said for an eligible family, the cost of an infant in a five-star program is $1,900 a month. That is the cost the state is paying for families of four whose income is 400 percent of the federal poverty level.

“That’s what it actually costs for a five-star early childcare center. It’s not what most families can afford,” Groginsky said. 

Lujan Grisham spoke of the federal relief money that she was able to utilize for early childcare and education. During the last six months of 2021, the federal government provided $3,000 per child, if between six and 17 years old and $3,600 per child for those under six years old in child tax credits. The money became available through monthly  payments from July 2021 to December 2021.

The federal government did not extend the child tax credit, but the state passed a tax omnibus bill this year that provides a state tax credit for families with children. A family that earns less than $25,000 annually can receive $600 annually per child. For households earning between $25,000 to $50,000, the child tax credit is $400 per child and for families earning $50,000 to $75,000 per year, the child tax credit is $200 per child.

Groginsky said that in rural communities, the best options for early childcare are often in a home-based business and that, with the state providing “the true cost of care,” it is creating an incentive for more individuals to create a viable business model. She said most of these small businesses are women owned and women run.

Through grants, policy changes and technical support, ECECD is trying to encourage expansion of early childcare to the state’s childcare deserts, Groginsky said. She said the department is also developing coalitions across 12 counties to encourage early childcare building. She said the Grant County Partnership for Children in Silver City is leading one of these coalitions and that the coalitions bring families to the table for ideas and help to build strategy. 

Lujan Grisham also spoke of changing the attitude around early childcare workers to encourage individuals to want to build a career in the field.

“We stopped referring to these workers as daycare providers. They make a difference in the development of children. We have to treat them like professionals,” she said.

Lujan Grisham highlighted that, under her administration, early childcare workers have received a 30 percent increase in salary. She said she wants early childcare workers to receive the same salaries as K-12 educators. 

Lujan Grisham also gave a short history of the advocacy that went into changing the distribution of the Land Grant Permanent Fund and the creation of the Early Childhood Trust Fund in 2020. That fund, which provides some funding to ECECD, is expected to reach $7 billion by 2026, Groginsky said.

Lujan Grisham also highlighted the state’s support of childcare centers built by tribes and pueblos to protect Native languages and cultural customs.  

Biden spoke after Lujan Grisham and called expanding early childcare education “a critical piece of strengthening our workforce.”

“So they don’t have to choose between paying grocery bills and paying a childcare provider. When they can pursue their dreams, knowing their children are safe, we all benefit,” Biden said.