Opinion: Longtime childcare professional evaluates PreK legislation

Michelle Hill-Jack
The Learning Circle Kids Academy
Michelle Hill-Jack

I have worked professionally in Early Childhood for 49 years. I have operated The Learning Circle Kids Academy for 35 years. It is the longest running program other than Head Start in San Juan County. I want to share my professional opinion with you regarding New Mexico's children and legislation that is being heard in Santa Fe this session.

I support SB 22 and I oppose House Bill 623 and SB 298.

SB 22 would create a new Early Childhood Education and Care Department. This would create leadership and consistency for young children because all early childhood programs would be governed by one cabinet allowing financial and regulation consistency.

It would also responsibly expand access to PreK programs by maintaining a parent's ability to choose the right child care and PreK setting for their child. In contrast, SB 298 would force all four-year-olds into the public-school system, eliminating parent choice.
I also believe the new department should fund centers that already meet the "5 Star" nationally accredited level of professionalism, safety, health, sanitation, and high standards of quality care should be allowed to receive continued funding for PreK.

I oppose SB 298 because forcing all of the young four-year-old children in public school is a bad idea. These young children need nurturing, one-on-one attention, a surrounding of family and caregivers that they can bond with and feel safe. They need to eat when hungry, nap when tired, and most of all have one caregiver to be "their very own." This does not happen in formal public education. It isn't logical to expect that. Yet that nurturing is vital to a child's ability to mature emotionally enough to handle school and its expectations when it is appropriate later.

Busing these young children will also be a nightmare. With only one adult on a bus, how can the public schools ensure care of these young children on a long ride? Many times these young children in public PreK programs are returned to my center soaking wet or soiled and exhausted. This is not child developmentally-appropriate care.

Children are so stressed in today’s world; no wonder there are so many troubled children and adults' years later.

But if all PreK is turned over to public education I guarantee there will not be child care available in New Mexico anywhere. Losing all the four-year-olds in our programs would mean we'd have to close. Most child care centers are woman- or minority-owned. New Mexico's economy needs child care. We have not only kept on top of high quality, safe, educational child development but put children first in decision making.
Keep children first in decision making and expand PreK responsibly.

Michelle Hill-Jack is the president and CEO of The Learning Circle Kids Academy in Kirtland. She has been involved in early childhood care for 49 years.