New Mexico again ranks at the bottom for child wellbeing

New Mexico continues to rank at the bottom of the country for child well-being, with a score of 50th and also at the bottom for childhood education, according to the new KIDS Count Data Book.  The Annie E. Casey Foundation KIDS COUNT Data Book is an annual assessment of child wellbeing state by state. Besides […]

New Mexico again ranks at the bottom for child wellbeing

New Mexico continues to rank at the bottom of the country for child well-being, with a score of 50th and also at the bottom for childhood education, according to the new KIDS Count Data Book. 

The Annie E. Casey Foundation KIDS COUNT Data Book is an annual assessment of child wellbeing state by state. Besides overall well-being, the foundation also ranks states on education, health, economic well-being and family and community. This year, the data book also contains information on Adverse Childhood Experiences on a state-by-state basis as well as chronic absences in schools. With 50 percent of New Mexico children experiencing one or more ACE for the 2021-2022 school year, New Mexico tied Mississippi for the highest percentage of children who experience one or more ACEs for the 2021-2022 school year, which is the year the most recent data is available. 

New Mexico also had one of the highest rates of chronically absent children from school for the 2021-2022 school year, with 41 percent, which tied the state of Montana. Only Oregon, Alaska, Arizona and the District of Columbia had higher percentages of chronically absent children. 

New Mexico Voices for Children noted that New Mexico has improved in its child poverty rate since previous rankings. In this data book, the study found 23 percent of children were living in poverty in 2022. In 2019, the rate was 25 percent.

“Although there’s still work to do, New Mexico’s official child poverty rate continues to improve but change takes time,” said Gabrielle Uballez, executive director of New Mexico Voices for Children said through a news release. “And this measure of poverty only considers income. When we look instead at the supplemental poverty measure, which measures the impact of some of our best poverty-fighting policies, we see that New Mexico’s investments in families through refundable tax credits and income support programs have a real impact on lowering poverty rates and supporting family well-being.”

The rate of teens in New Mexico who are neither working nor in school has also improved since 2019. As of 2022, the rate was 9 percent. In 2019 it was 11 percent.

But, the state, overall, ranked 48th in the nation for economic wellbeing for children. Only Louisiana and Mississippi ranked below New Mexico.

In recent years the state has enacted policy change in an effort to improve child wellbeing. The state spent 10 years trying to pass legislation that would enable a constitutional amendment to go before voters in 2022 to increase the distribution from the Permanent Land Grant Fund to provide more funding for early childhood education. The state created a department to oversee early childhood education in 2020.  

The state has also implemented tax policy in recent years that advocates have said benefits families. But the Uballez said the policy initiatives will require patience in order to see results. 

“New Mexico has invested significantly in our children, enhancing early childhood care and education services and introducing the new Child Tax Credit. While these initiatives have a real positive impact on the everyday lives of families today, it will take time for their full impact to be reflected in data. While data and rankings like Kids Count offer insights, they only provide a snapshot in time and don’t tell the whole story. For example, a recent report from the National Institute for Early Education Research showed that during the 2022-2023 school year, New Mexico preschool enrollment increased by 660 children to reach 13,227, and the state met nine out of ten quality standards benchmarks.

“It’s crucial that we continue to support policies such as refundable tax credits, child care assistance, increased funding for education, paid sick leave, universal school meals, and the Opportunity Scholarship. Additionally, we must enact paid family and medical leave, increase the child tax credit for families with young children, ensure a culturally relevant K-12 curriculum, and raise the minimum wage.

“We celebrate New Mexico for our already profound collective investment in kids and families, and urge advocates, lawmakers, and stakeholders to remain patient and confident in the long-term impact of our investments,” Uballez told NM Political Report through an email. 

New Mexico ranks 50th for education. The data book found that New Mexico eighth graders not proficient in math has worsened since 2019 when the rate was 79 percent. The rate of eighth graders not proficient in math in 2022 rose to 87 percent. 

Fourth graders not proficient in reading also increased from 76 percent in 2019 to 79 percent in 2022.

But, that follows national trends. Across the U.S., 74 percent of eighth graders were not proficient in math in 2022, while in 2019, 67 percent were. Similarly, reading proficiency decreased two percentage points from 2019 to 2022 in the U.S. so that 68 percent of fourth graders in the U.S. are not up to reading proficiency. 

The KIDS COUNT Data Book points out that children’s mental health significantly suffered during the COVID-19 pandemic and children did not have access to low-cost and free lunches when they had to engage in online learning during the early portion of the public health emergency. The data book recommended a list of strategies to improve learning and noted that New Mexico incentivized extended instructional time in 2023 by providing funding to districts that adopted longer school calendars. The data book also recommended community schools, because they provide wrap-around services for children and families and serve high-poverty, low-opportunity neighborhoods.

Emily Wildau, KIDS COUNT coordinator for New Mexico Voices for Children, said through the release that “New Mexico’s ranking in the education domain is heavily impacted by national standardized test scores, including fourth grade reading proficiency.” 

“Reading proficiency is critical for students to succeed academically and as adults. These scores do not reflect the ability of our children, but rather an education system that is not designed with our multicultural, multilingual students in mind,” Wildau said.

NMVC also said through the release that bottom-ranked states, including New Mexico, tend to have higher populations of children of color, “highlighting that programs and systems are not designed to support them.”

In the health category, New Mexico ranked 44th in the nation, but in the family and community category, the state ranked 49th, with only Mississippi ranked lower.

“New Mexico’s ranking is not a reflection of who we are but serves as a motivation to continue improving the systems in New Mexico that make it possible for kids and families to thrive,” Uballez said through the release.

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