New Mexico is making strides toward universal pre-K, national report finds

A national report found that in the 2022-2023 school year, New Mexico spent over $8,000 per child attending pre-K and that about 45 percent of four-year-old children are enrolled in a pre-K program. But for three-year-old children, the report found that only 11 percent of children in New Mexico are enrolled in pre-K. The report, […]

New Mexico is making strides toward universal pre-K, national report finds

A national report found that in the 2022-2023 school year, New Mexico spent over $8,000 per child attending pre-K and that about 45 percent of four-year-old children are enrolled in a pre-K program.

But for three-year-old children, the report found that only 11 percent of children in New Mexico are enrolled in pre-K. The report, called The 21st State of Preschool, was produced by the National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers University and released on Thursday.

Overall, the report found that 44 states saw increases in pre-K enrollment for the 2022-2023 school year and while universal pre-K initiatives in some states helped to cause the increase, the fact that population numbers are down are also a factor, according to the report.

The decline in the population of young children masks the fact that, overall, fewer children attended pre-K in 2022 than in 2019. 

But in New Mexico, the population of four-year-old children enrolled in pre-K during the COVID-19 pandemic has risen steadily since and is slightly higher than the number of four-year-old children enrolled in 2019.

But the state’s efforts to increase enrollment of three-year-old children in pre-K has been a much slower process. According to the report, in 2017, four percent of three-year-old children attended pre-K. In the 2022-2023 school year, only 11 percent did.

The report also shows how New Mexico has improved in pre-K enrollment over time. In 2002, only 1 percent of four-year-olds and 2 percent of three-year-old children in the state were enrolled in pre-K programs. At the time, the state spent $2,384 per child on pre-K education in 2002, according to the report. In 2022-2023, the state spent $8,008 per child.

The report found that New Mexico meets 9 out of 10 benchmarks for quality pre-K programs. While New Mexico pre-K educators receive professional development, attain certificates and receive coaching, they can begin their careers prior to receiving a BA degree in early childhood education.

During a press call this week, Steve Barnett, founder and senior co-director of the Institute, said that “New Mexico did something remarkable.”

He explained that the state created a dedicated funding stream from the Permanent Land Grant Fund, referring to the enactment of the constitutional amendment that voters approved in 2022 to increase distribution from the fund by 1.5 percent. Most of that money goes toward programs overseen by the Early Childhood Education and Care Department. A small amount also improves Public Education Department funding.

The effort to pass that bill took ten years.

Related: Land Grant Permanent Fund constitutional amendment is years in the making

“That guarantees funding indefinitely into the future and they are building universal pre-K off of that,” Barnett said. 

He said the state has not reached the level of being a leader in universal pre-K yet but, he said, he expects the state to get there and that such an effort cannot be built overnight. 

“New Mexico is building that step by step,” he said.

He also commended the state for creating ECECD, a dedicated department with a cabinet secretary, Elizabeth Groginsky, to “be in charge of all this.”

Barnett said it could take 10 years before the work New Mexico policy makers have done will begin to show in educational outcomes.

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