New Mexico Voices: Funding early childhood education in New Mexico Is our imperative

State Sen. Bill Tallman
District 18 - Bernalillo
State Sen. Bill Tallman

There is widespread agreement in our state today that our education system needs more resources and support to get better outcomes for our students. We are at the bottom of the list of almost every category that pertains to child well-being and educational results. It is unacceptable.
We cannot ignore that year after year, New Mexico remains at the bottom of the list in the percentage of children living in poverty.  Thirty percent of all children in New Mexico live in poverty. Ninety-five percent of children never receive a home visit from a professional dedicated to their well-being.  Seen thousand fewer children are receiving child care assistance than just a few years ago. Sixty percent do not have access to pre-K. All of these hard facts have a huge impact on the state of New Mexico’s education. 
Investing in early childhood education is worth it. Studies show that when pre-K programs are well designed and managed by knowledgeable staff, they give children a solid start in school. High-quality programs can make substantial improvements for children that last into the later school years, as well as into their adult lives. Children who participated in early childhood education are less likely to be incarcerated later in life, and more likely to earn incomes that can sustain a family. 
Funding high-quality early childhood education programs for our children is one of my top priorities, and it must be a priority for all members of the Legislature.  
Despite the budget crises the state has faced annually for the past 10 years, I am convinced we must make the commitment to early childhood education, one way or another. Think about the consequences if we do not: underfunding education systems forces us to pay for more police officers, more prison cells and more drug rehabilitation facilities.  
In other words, pay me now or pay me later. The state faces a real predicament. We are not a rich state like California or New York. Where is the funding to come from?
Many believe that we should draw down an additional sum from the state’s Land Grant Permanent Fund to pay for the early education of poor children. Opponents say the state ought not to exceed the current 5 percent distribution from the Fund, pointing to financial investment experts who think it imprudent. 
If we do not the use a portion of the fund to pay for critical early childhood education, then how is the state to do it? Options could include real tax reform which addresses ‘tax expenditures’ such as deductions, exclusions, exemptions, credits and deferrals. That has potential of freeing up some revenue. Capital outlay reform might generate savings that could be applied to early childhood education. Eliminating redundant institutions, programs, agencies and programs could generate savings to be earmarked for education. Many millions of dollars of appropriated, but unspent funds could be re-appropriated to early childhood education.   
However we decide to finance early childhood education it is imperative that we act sooner than later. Polls indicate that voters overwhelmingly support providing high-quality early childhood education, because it is a common sense and proven way to improve the life outcomes for our children. A stronger workforce and economy for all of us await if we find the political will to tackle early childhood education in New Mexico.