Misusing the Kids Count Report

The Rio Grande Foundation supports free market policies. New Mexico Voices for Children is on the left of the political spectrum and usually support more government. There are vast areas of disagreement but I believe that in the end New Mexicans across the political spectrum ALL want New Mexico’s children to do better.

That’s why it is so disappointing that Voices for Children is using the annual “Kids Count” report it publishes with the support of the Annie E. Casey Foundation to sharpen political axes rather than working to ensure that New Mexico does the best it can for its children.

Upon release of the “Kids Count” report, the group’s executive director James Jimenez stated that New Mexico’s ranking of 50th, “Was a real failure by the Martinez administration to invest in youth, children and families in a way that made much of a difference in terms of these kinds of rankings.”

But Jimenez himself notes elsewhere that New Mexico was ranked 49th before Martinez took office. Bill Richardson was Martinez’s predecessor (and Mr. Jimenez’s previous boss).

One can quibble with many aspects of the Martinez Administration and its policies, but it’s not as if New Mexico children were doing great relative to those in other states before she took office. And, if Voices were being more realistic and less political they might point out that Martinez struggled mightily during her 8 years in office to get any of her policy reforms through a hostile, Democrat-controlled Legislature. It is after all the Legislature that makes economic policy in New Mexico and the Legislature has been under Democratic control for a vast majority of New Mexico history. They get no blame from Voices however.

The report itself covers numerous variables and is pretty good overall despite a few quibbles (is it really critical that 3 & 4 year old children be in school, for example). It is hard to argue that children in poverty or without parents working steady jobs are good things (two more variables). We also agree completely that 4th graders should be able to read (a Martinez priority) and 8th graders should be proficient in math. Ironically, you never hear Voices folks discuss one of the report’s 16 variables which is “Children in Single-Parent Families.” Perhaps “old-fashioned” advice on marriage and family formation is not seen as “progressive” enough.

The fact is that a majority of the Kids Count report tracks and relays what we already know: New Mexico is an economically impoverished state with some major social issues driven in part by the breakdown of the family. We don’t need this report to know that these are long-standing issues in New Mexico. Even if you take the report at face value and as 100% accurate, it is hard to criticize one person, the head of one branch of New Mexico government for all of these failings.

We at the Rio Grande Foundation disagree with most of Voices for Children’s policy objectives. They see more government programs and more spending as the likely solution for nearly all of the issues raised in the report. My Foundation sees New Mexico’s problem as a lack of free markets and economic freedom leading to poverty and dependency. Our solutions involve more choice for parents and children in education, and a limited role for government welfare programs so as to not encourage dependence on them or the replacement of family and community with government. Finally, we support government getting out of the way of businesses and entrepreneurs in ways that encourage the entrepreneurial spirit and private sector growth.

No matter what you believe New Mexico’s problems with child outcomes are deep-seated and complicated. We are all responsible for solving them and it is simply unfair and unwise to blame one politician for our failings or to expect some new government program to solve them.

Paul Gessing is the President of New Mexico’s Rio Grande Foundation. The Rio Grande Foundation is an independent, non-partisan, tax-exempt research and educational organization dedicated to promoting prosperity for New Mexico based on principles of limited government, economic freedom and individual responsibility

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2 Replies to “Misusing the Kids Count Report”

  1. I am absolutely sick as I write this; We in the Early Childhood community took time away from our busy childcare centers to go to Santa Fe during much of the session to educate legislators regarding the effects of potential devastating bills such as putting all PreK in public schools. Our current early childhood education/care system is actually ranked well on a national level. I have even heard repeatedly 14th however I am trying to track such data. To be sure we have far more nationally accredited childcare centers than what is average along with phenomenal T/TA and we have other fantastic milestones – Believe it or not!! So why would Senators Stuart and Soles demand to put all Prek in public schools which are ranked at the bottom of the nation?? Seems to me NM public ed. has enough to work on at the moment, no? Well fortunately we have some common sense legislators who heard our arguments and could see this would put many of our highest quality childcare centers out of business WITHOUT benefitting the child. Current statistics prove that NM PreK kiddos in private settings do even slightly better than those in public ed. The current ratio is 50 in private settings including mostly non-profits and 50% in public ed. When Oklahoma made the move to put all PreK in public ed, 40% of their centers went out of business and they are still in chaos! Additionally that was without the minimum wage increase we face. So why, why would they even want this. Well guess what? Even though this did not pass through legislation, it was taken through the back door……Being on the legislative Education Committee, may have had something to do with things? School districts were told they must apply for the PreK money because they were out of compliance with their Developmentally Delayed Preschools because of a previously unfunded mandate from years ago that states you should have a matching proportion of non-delayed children in the classroom with you DD kids. Of course this was ignored for years because no-one could afford it. Now all of a sudden, it’s a crises and DD Pre Funds would be not given if they did not take the PreK money. This is going to lead to putting childcare out of business along with the minimum wage increases and even more new funding cuts to childcare!!! I am actually wondering if this Governor is shooting to be the first State to take over all childcare – get ahold of those babies brains even sooner!! I am telling you New Mexico – I have been in this business as a non profit director for 20 years – Your childcare is in absolute crises in this state and folks do not even know! It will be the high quality going out of business first in the rural communities. I know we would close or doors before doing harm. We will fight but rest assured, we will not win this battle unless we have heavy hitters on both sides of the isle who fight with us.

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