A Reality Check on Pre-K Funding

Source: Legislative Finance Committee

Have some sympathy for New Mexico’s liberals. They’ve been in a deep funk since the 2018 legislative session concluded without the passage of HJR 1.

The joint resolution would have asked voters to direct a portion of the revenue generated by the Land Grant Permanent Fund to “early childhood educational services.” The legislation narrowly won a majority in the House, but was blocked by Sen. John Arthur Smith (D-Deming) in the upper chamber.

The Santa Fe New Mexican wailed that “[s]mart and compassionate people — everyone from advocates for the poor to religious leaders to progressive legislators — believe the best way to help children succeed is to use the state’s potent trust fund resources and invest them in kids.” (Opposed HJR 1? You’re dumb and cruel.) The executive director of the New Mexico Conference of Catholic Bishops thundered that “an element of racism” played a role in the resolution’s defeat. (Opposed HJR 1? You’re a Nazi.) Columnist Milan Simonich grumbled that “senators sit on their hands while holding their tongue,” allowing Sen. John Arthur Smith to annually kill a measure that has widespread support. (Opposed HJR 1? You’re aligned with a bitter old man who refuses “to take some responsibility for the mess New Mexico is in.”)

Listen to the left’s caterwauling and you might be tempted to think that the state is stingy in providing “early childhood educational services.” Actually, the opposite is true.

In 2006, when then-Governor Bill Richardson declared “the year of the child,” subsidization of preschool was close to zilch. Since then, as the chart above shows, spending has soared past $50 million per year. (Note that the Legislative Finance Committee’s figures do not include every program in the “New Mexico Early Care and Education System,” a policy architecture that includes home visitation, daycare, and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children.)

Despite all those expenditures, the state remains rock-bottom in child well-being.

Faith-based education policy channels resources into “solutions” that don’t work, squandering taxpayers’ hard-earned dollars on bureaucracies and educrats that — however well-meaning — fail to attack root causes.

Imagine if the time and attention showered on expanding preschool in New Mexico were spent on the state’s appalling (and third-from-worst) illegitimacy rate. The result would be a discussion of the real driver of social pathologies in the Land of Enchantment — and perhaps, a consensus on what policy initiatives are needed to move forward.

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5 Replies to “A Reality Check on Pre-K Funding”

  1. Any figures on the participation rate of underprivileged children in existing early-childhood programs?

    New Mexico’s K-12 high truancy rates are highest for kindergarten. It’s likely that families who decline to send their children to kindergarten won’t send them to pre-K either.

    Unless there’s an aggressive effort to enroll children from underprivileged families — perhaps by tying welfare benefits to participation — a statewide early-education program will be a middle-class entitlement that fails to reach the children who most need it.

      1. There’s no question that means-tested early childhood programs reach underprivileged families. What we do not know is what percentage of eligible families actually use the programs. We also know that 17% of kindergarten students in APS are habitually truant. So if a program claims to reach the underprivileged, it’s reasonable to ask the extent who which it’s doing so.

  2. Pouring more $$ into programs without solving the root of the problems is pointless. We need more evidence-based voluntary home visits to at-risk families so that parents can learn what resources are available to them, how to problem nourish and raise children (to become emancipated adults), and to make sure that parents read to their children concurrent with sending them to school, etc, etc. It is negligent to assume that all parents have parenting skills and without them, we will get more of the same results.

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