“Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”
— Matthew 19:13-14
On January 19, 2022, the New Mexico Voices for Children released the 2021 Kids Count Data Book. The annual “Kids Count” data book is prepared by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. The Casey foundation is a nonprofit based in Maryland focusing on improving the well-being and future of American children and their families. It assesses how New Mexico children are faring in a number of areas including economic well-being, education, health, and family and community. The “Kids Count Data Book” is a 90 page document with an extensive number of tables, graphs charts and statistics listing and counties in the state.
The links to the Kids Count Data Book is here:
NEW MEXICO’S RANKINGS AND PERCENTAGES IN A NUTSHELL
EDITOR’S NOTE: The term “child” refers to the age group from birth through 17 years. Poverty is defined as those living at or below the federal poverty level (FPL). The FPL for a family of three was $21,720 in 2020, the year the most recent data were collected.
Following are New Mexico’s rankings in the nation gleaned from the 2021 Kids Count Data Book:
50th in the nation for education.
29th in the number of young children not enrolled in school.
45th with children living with families where the head of the household lacked a high school diploma.
49th in the nation for child well being.
48th in the nation for child poverty.
49th in the nation for eighth grade math proficiency.
50th in the nation for fourth grade reading proficiency.
37th in the nation for health care for children.
48th in the nation for Family and Community.
29th in the nation for children without health care insurance.
48th in the nation for children living in single-parent families.
43rd in the nation for child and teen death rates.
Following are the state’s percentages gleaned from the 2021 Kids Count Data Book:
32% of New Mexico children have parents that lack secure employment.
25% of New Mexico Children are living in poverty.
76% of New Mexico’s fourth graders are not proficient in reading.
79% of New Mexico’s 8th graders are not proficient in math.
25% of New Mexico’s high school students do not graduate on time.
9.3% low birth weights for children born in New Mexico.
2,124 total children born in New Mexico with low birth weights.
6% of New Mexico children are without health insurance.
29,000 total New Mexico children without health insurance.
36 is New Mexico’s child and teen death rates per 100,000.
44% of New Mexico children live in single parent families or 195,000 children living in single parent families.
14% of New Mexico children live in families where the household head lacks a high school education or 69,000 children.
24 is New Mexico’s teen birth rate per 1,000 with 1,659 births.
DISCUSSION OF ASSESSMENT
Emily Wildau, the New Mexico Kids Count Data Book coordinator, said the biggest surprise that come out of the annual assessment is New Mexico saw 20,000 additional children enrolled in Medicaid in 2021. The increase in Medicaid coverage for New Mexico children is likely due to job losses leading to a loss of private-employer insurance.
Currently, New Mexico ranks 49th in the nation for child wellbeing, but the January Kids Count Data Book does not assess national rankings. Despite the challenges of the pandemic, in many ways, New Mexico’s response to the pandemic has been “a success story”. Improvements for families with children made before the pandemic include the development of the Early Childhood Education and Care Department (ECECD), a minimum wage increase, increased K-12 funding and teacher pay increases and “crucial” COVID-19 relief for families, workers and businesses.
A key piece of new information for 2021 is that hardship data shows that many New Mexico families spent the monthly federal Child Tax Credit money to pay down debt. This was especially true for Native American and Hispanic families.
The Kids Count Data Book shows that child food insecurity increased from 24% in 2020 to 26% in 2021.
Amber Wallin, executive director of New Mexico Voices for Children, said the New Mexico legislature should continue to enact legislation that will positively impact families and children, particularly families of color. Wallin said other areas of public policy where lawmakers should focus on to help families with children and provide equitable relief for communities of color include “strategic investment in food insecurity,” continuing to “invest in early childhood education” and support of the Early Childhood Trust Fund which augments federal funding for prenatal-to-five-years of age.
The link to quoted news source material is here:
Following are the narratives on the major findings of the Kids Count Data Book for 2021:
The rate and number of New Mexico children living in poverty appears to have decreased from 2019 to 2020. It is likely that policies such as pandemic economic relief prevented increases or, in some cases, resulted in decreases in child poverty. However, with 116,000 or 25% of our children living at or below the Federal Poverty Line, New Mexico still ranks poorly at 48th in the nation in child poverty. By the onset of the pandemic and its resulting recession, most other states had recovered from the Great Recession, but New Mexico’s economy had not quite fully rebounded, which means more families were vulnerable to falling into poverty than had the opportunity to lift themselves out of poverty. New Mexico’s future economic success and the quality of our future workforce is determined, in large part, by what sorts of opportunities our children have today
Between 2018 and 2019, the number of young children not enrolled in school decreased slightly, bumping our national ranking up from 30th to 29th. However, New Mexico’s rate of young children not enrolled in school has not changed much over the long term and is actually only slightly better than it was in 2009. While the state is continuing its planned rollout of the NM Pre-K program, insufficient funding for the child care assistance program over the last several years has meant that fewer families have been able to afford child care in a setting that is education oriented. While an influx of federal COVID-19 relief has allowed policymakers to make improvements and increases in some areas, these improvements will need to be sustained and made permanent after one-time federal money is spent to adequately address the pressing needs in this policy area.
FOURTH GRADE READING PROFIENCY
This Measures the percentage of fourth graders who scored below proficient in reading as measured and defined by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). Children need to be able to read proficiently by fourth grade in order to be able to use their reading skills to learn other school subjects. In fact, kids who are not reading at grade level by this critical point are more likely to drop out of school and less likely to go to college. New Mexico ranks 50th in the nation in fourth grade reading proficiency. The state had been making progress in this indicator, but this marked the first year since 2009 that the rate of students reading below proficiency increased. Reading proficiency is a crucial element of scholastic success, but in New Mexico, 76% of our children are not proficient in reading by the fourth grade. As has been the case in the past, boys, children of color, and children from families earning low incomes have proficiency rates that are below the state average in fourth grade reading.
EIGHTH GRADE MATH PROFIENCY
This Measures the percentage of eighth graders who scored below proficient in math as measured and defined by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). Math proficiency by the eighth grade is necessary for students to do well in high school math courses and attend college. As more and more jobs in today’s increasingly high-tech work environment depend on science, technology, engineering, and math skills, students not proficient in math are at a real disadvantage. New Mexico ranks 49th in eighth grade math proficiency. The 79% of New Mexico eighth graders who are behind in math are likely to struggle in high school and college math courses.
HIGH SCHOOL GRADUATION RATES
One-quarter of New Mexican high schoolers do not graduate on time. This rate is significantly worse than the national average of 14%. For the sixth year in a row, New Mexico is ranked 50th among the states on this indicator. Though New Mexico continues to rank very poorly on this measure, the state has made improvements in this indicator over the long term, going from 35% of students not graduating on time in 2009 to 25% not graduating on time in 2019.
The biggest improvements in this indicator over that time period were seen among Native American and Hispanic students. Graduating on time is important because those who don’t are more likely to drop out altogether and those who don’t dropout are less likely to go on to college. Adults without a high school diploma are more likely to be employed in low-paying jobs, not have benefits like paid leave and health insurance, and have higher unemployment rates than those with higher levels of educational attainment.
According to 2020 data, 6% of all New Mexico children were uninsured, and 2019 data show that Hispanic and Native American children are more likely to be uninsured. Although New Mexico has seen an increase in the number of children on Medicaid during the pandemic, households with children delayed or did not receive needed medical care at higher rates than the rest of the nation.
People of color in the state delayed getting care at higher rates than non-Hispanic whites, with 26% of Hispanic households with children delaying care compared to 20% of non Hispanic whites. Nearly 40% of those identifying as two or more races or other race, a category that includes Native Americans, also delayed care. Similar racial and ethnic breakdowns can be seen for households with children who did not get medical care at all. This is likely correlated to unemployment rates, as families lost employer-provided insurance or became unable to afford health insurance or medical care due to financial hardship.
The rates of women receiving no prenatal care while pregnant improved from 2018 to 2019. While all rates improved, they remained higher among teen mothers and mothers with less than a high school diploma than among the general population of mothers. Hispanic and Native American women in New Mexico are the least likely to receive prenatal care during pregnancy, while non-Hispanic white mothers are the most likely to receive prenatal care early on in pregnancy.
Mental health during the pandemic has improved both in New Mexico and the nation. This year 30% of adults in the U.S. felt anxious – an improvement from 35% this same time last year. New Mexico saw an even bigger improvement in this indicator, with 26% of adults feeling anxiety – compared to 46% who felt this way last year.
The rates for adults feeling depressed in the U.S. also improved to 19% from 23% last year, while that rate in New Mexico improved even more significantly to 16% this year from 34%. What’s more, this year New Mexico flipped from faring worse than the nation on both of these indicators to faring better. Similarly, we’re seeing a switch in anxiety rates based on race and ethnicity.
While rates are lower across all races and ethnicities this year, non-Hispanic white adults are now reporting the highest rates of anxiety – at 32%, from 38% last year – while those rates dropped to 28% from 50% for Hispanic adults and to 9% from 52% for adults identifying as two or more races or another race. (Data for depression by race and ethnicity are not available this year.)
The reasons for these flips in data are not clear-cut, but may stem from multiple causes, including a decline in responses during collection resulting in data that may not reflect lived experiences, as well as a variety of public policy improvements. For example, an easing of the state’s pandemic restrictions due to our high vaccination rate may play a part, as may the return to in-person schooling, as well as 2019 state tax improvements for low-income families and additional 2020 state pandemic relief – all of which may have had different benefits along the lines of race and ethnicity.
In addition, parents could choose between receiving the increased federal Child Tax Credit in one lump sum in 2022 or receiving it in advance, with installments paid out periodically in 2021. The decision of when to receive CTC payments could also account for some of the change. However, we do not see a similar switch along the lines of race and ethnicity in any of the measures of economic well-being during this time frame.
New Mexico children face some major challenges but ensuring that they have health insurance can help address a number of the issues that can threaten children’s health and well-being, and this is one area in which New Mexico does comparatively well. Thanks to the expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, New Mexico has seen some of the biggest improvements over time in the nation – dropping to 6% from 14%.
Although the 2020 data are not strictly comparable to earlier data, the share of children without health insurance remained at 6% in 2020, ranking us 29th in the nation on this indicator. Medicaid likely played a part in keeping children covered during the pandemic when families were losing their health insurance benefits. However, Medicaid coverage rules will change once the pandemic ends. In long-term trends, the biggest improvements in this measure have been among Native American and Hispanic children. However, Native American children in New Mexico, with uninsured rates around 11% in 2019, were still at the greatest risk of being uninsured.
New Mexico’s child and teen death rate is 36 deaths per 100,000 children and teens. This is significantly worse than the U.S. average rate of 25 per 100,000 and ranks New Mexico 43rd among the states on this measure. Rates among Native American children in New Mexico (at 56 per 100,000) are significantly higher than the state and national averages. Over the long term, New Mexico’s child and teen death rate has decreased, from 40 in 2009 to 36 deaths per 100,000 in 2019, following a national overall trend of gradual improvement on this indicator. Rates have remained the same among Hispanics and decreased among non-Hispanic whites but have increased among Native Americans.
EFFECTS OF THE PANDEMIC
New Mexico entered the pandemic with a significant lack of internet access in households compared to the national rate, according to 2019 data. Data from 2020, which are less representative of New Mexico and the nation due to pandemic data collection issues, still show that 9% of New Mexico households had no internet subscription compared to 6% of all households in the country.
We know these estimates are low, and in many cases, when families have internet access, it is often poor quality, making it challenging for students to complete online assignments and for parents to monitor their child’s academic progress since grades are posted online. Poor internet connectivity and lack of internet service continue to be significant barriers for students who must quarantine due to COVID-19 exposure and those adults who are still working remotely or who are enrolled in postsecondary courses online.
FAMILY AND COMMUNITY
The rate of children living in single-parent families in 2020 is not comparable to the rate in other years. Data indicates that 39% of children in New Mexico were living in single-parent families in 2020, and our rate is still much higher than the national average of 29%. Our ranking is based on 2019 data and we remain 48th among the states on this measure. Our high rate of children living in single-parent families is likely part of the reason so many of our children live in poverty, are food insecure, and face educational and health challenges. That single-parent families and poverty are linked is well understood, but what receives far less attention is the question of which situation is the cause and which the effect.
Essentially, not only can being a single parent lead to a life of poverty, but the converse – that financial instability within a relationship can lead to its dissolution – is also true. However, public policies that seek to increase marriage rates among families earning low incomes rarely take this fact into consideration and too frequently fail to take a holistic approach to ensuring all families can thrive, no matter their structure. Partly because centuries of systemic discrimination have forced a higher share of people of color into poverty, children of color are more likely to live in single parent families than are their white and Asian counterparts.
Work to ensure that more children of color live in two-parent families must begin by dismantling the race- and ethnicity-based barriers that their parents face; barriers to quality and culturally appropriate education, jobs that pay family sustaining wages, and safe housing. Public programs that use a two-generational approach – meaning they create opportunities simultaneously for both parents and children and in doing so address both groups’ needs – are also crucial for improving indicators like this one. Some public programs, such as TANF, have unproductive policies, such as requiring mothers to name their child’s father regardless of a pattern of abuse. These policies may not only put children in traumatic and sometimes dangerous situations, but they can also jeopardize financial assistance and exacerbate a single-parent family’s poverty.
In 2019, 14% of New Mexico children – or 69,000 kids – lived in families where the head of the household lacked a high school diploma. These numbers rank New Mexico 45th in the nation on this indicator. This rate has been improving in New Mexico and nationwide since 2009, when 21% of New Mexico children lived in families headed by a parent without a high school diploma. In New Mexico, rates are highest among Hispanic children at 21% and Native American children at 18% – compared with 5% for non-Hispanic white children and 7% for Black and Asian children as well as children of two or more races. Still, the biggest improvements in this indicator since 2009 have been among Hispanic and Native American children.
HIGH POVERTY AREAS
A high-poverty area is defined as a Census tract where at least 30% of the population lives at or below the federal poverty level. This indicator measures all children living in such areas, including those whose families earn incomes higher than the poverty level. Regardless of their own family’s income, children who grow up in neighborhoods where poverty rates are high are more likely to be exposed to drug use and be victims of violent crime. They are less likely to have access to fresh and healthy food, adequate high-quality housing, and community resources like great schools and safe places to play. Studies show that children in high-poverty areas are more likely to start school behind and will need more individual attention. All of these factors can negatively impact their health and development.
With New Mexico’s rate of children living in high-poverty areas – 20% – more than double the national average – 9% – our state ranks 49th in the nation on this indicator. New Mexico improved from 2018 to 2019 when the percentage was 21%, a difference of approximately 9,000 children. Moreover, longer-term trends have improved, with 4,000 fewer New Mexico children living in high-poverty areas in 2019 than did in 2010 – compared to 5,000 more in 2018. Native American children are most likely to live in high poverty areas (at 45%), followed by Hispanic and Black children (at 20%). Non-Hispanic white children are least likely to live in high-poverty areas (8%).
TEEN BIRTH AREAS
The teen birth rate is the number of births to teens (ages 15 to 19) for every 1,000 females in that age range in the population. Teen births are associated with negative impacts for both mothers and children. Teen mothers are less likely to graduate high school, to receive adequate prenatal care, and to be economically secure. Babies born to teen mothers are more likely to be born at a low birthweight, be malnourished, face developmental delays, do poorly in school, become teen parents themselves, and live in poverty. Far from being an isolated issue, teen births affect the well-being of mothers, children, and society as a whole.
Following a national trend, the teen birth rate in New Mexico has improved significantly over time, dropping from 60 per 1,000 female teens in 2009 to 24 per 1,000 in 2019 – its lowest point in a decade. This represents an improvement of 60%, although New Mexico keeps its rank of 41st among the states on this indicator. Moreover, teen birth rates have declined across all races and ethnicities, improving most dramatically among Hispanic and Native American teens, with the rate of Hispanic teen births dropping from 81 per 1,000 in 2009 to 28 per 1,000 in 2019, and the rate of Native American teen births dropping from 73 per 1,000 in 2009 to 32 per 1,000 in 2019.
Teen birth rates are higher for teens of color in part because they are more likely to live in poverty and face systemic discrimination, both of which are barriers to receiving health care and pursuing college and a career and, therefore, delaying child bearing until they are older. Just as poverty and racism can lead to the formation of single-parent families, they can also lead to teen births.
POLICY SOLUTIONS TO STRENGTHEN FAMILIES AND COMMUNITIES
The Kids Count Data Book offers the following specific solutions in the following major 4 areas:
• Expand funding for home visiting programs, especially for teen parents. Home visiting provides parents with early emotional support, parenting skills, developmentally appropriate activities, and aids in accessing community economic, health, and educational resources.
• Maintain income eligibility for child care assistance at 350% the federal poverty level (FPL) and provide continuous eligibility so parents can accept pay raises without suddenly losing benefits that are worth more than the pay increase; eliminate copays for families earning less than 100% FPL and, for families between 101% and 350% FPL, scale copays to their incomes so payments do not put an undue burden on families earning low incomes.
• Invest in broadband infrastructure so that families and communities can better access health, wellbeing, family support, and education services.
• Support career pathways approaches that better align adult education with post-secondary education opportunities and industry needs while providing a clearer ladder to economic self-sufficiency.
• Expand access to high school equivalency programs, adult basic education, post-secondary education, and job training through a career pathways approach.
• Provide need-based financial assistance to these programs for adults lacking skills and earning low incomes who don’t qualify for many forms of financial aid and may have a family to support while they advance their education.
• Expand funding and access for English as a second language (ESL) classes to help parents increase their level of education.
• Increase access to affordable housing in safe areas with prospects of work for families earning low incomes, especially families of color, including through the creation or expansion of incentives for developers to build mixed-income housing developments.
• Promote community change efforts that integrate physical revitalization with human capital development. Combining investment in early childhood care and education programs for children with workforce development and asset building activities for parents can benefit lower income families.
• Increase funding for Individual Development Accounts (IDAs), which help parents and children save money for buying a home or paying for college.
• Target additional school funding towards schools in high-poverty areas.
• Incentivize teaching, expand community schools, and reduce class sizes in schools in high-poverty areas.
• Enact targeted economic development initiatives to communities that need them most and require accountability for tax breaks to corporations so that tax benefits are only received if corporations create quality jobs with decent wages and benefits for New Mexico residents. Tax breaks that do not create jobs should be repealed so the state can invest more money in support services for our children.
• Target federal WIOA (Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act) and TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) funds to support education and job training programs that help parents increase their educational attainment and workforce skills to create pathways out of poverty.
TEEN BIRTH RATES
• Increase funding for teen pregnancy prevention and support programs to help at-risk young women avoid pregnancy and see alternative opportunities for their future. Parenting support programs such as home visiting also help young mothers delay second pregnancies, improve their parenting skills, get a high school diploma, and access community supports.
• Expand funding and support for school-based health centers. Students reaching sexual maturity need access to physical and behavioral health professionals to help them make informed decisions.
• Expand evidence-based, age-appropriate comprehensive sex education and defund abstinence-only programs.
• Fund service-learning programs that provide students with civic engagement and work-related experience and have been linked to decreases in teen pregnancy rates.
• Support the creation of and funding for county and tribal health councils in order to better integrate health care with social, emotional, behavioral, and cognitive development for teens.
WHAT THE STATE IS DOING TO TURN THINGS AROUND
The biggest accomplishments of the 2019 Legislative session were the dramatic increases in public education funding, creation of the Early Childhood Department (CYFD), the mandates to Children, Youth and Families and Public Education departments, not to mention raises for educators and increasing CYFD social workers by 125 were clearly the biggest accomplishments of the 2019 Legislative session.
It was almost 2 years ago on July 1, 2020 that the Lujan Grisham administration launched its new Early Childhood Education and Care Department (ECECD).
The new department is charged with preparing children for school, promoting healthy families and developing a labor force to carry out the agency’s work. Creation of the new department was a major priority of Governor Lujan Grisham during the 2019 legislative session where it won approval. The agency formally began operation on July 1, the start of the 2021 fiscal year. About 270 employees from other departments were transferred into the new one. The sponsors of the legislation were Democratic Senator Michael Padilla of Albuquerque and Representative Linda Trujillo of Santa Fe.
New Mexico is 1 of just 4 states with a stand-alone department dedicated to services targeting children through age 5. The initial operating budget for the new department was $419 million for the 2020-2021 fiscal year. The new department is tasked with overseeing the state’s growing investment in prekindergarten, home visiting programs for new parents, childcare and similar services that previously were scattered across several departments. One of the key goals is to better coordinate the state’s network of early childhood services by housing them in one department rather than having them overseen separately by other departments.
YAZZIE V. STATE OF NEW MEXICO AND MARTINEZ REVISITED
On Friday, July 20, 2018, Santa Fe District Court Judge Sarah Singleton ruled in the case of Yazzie v. State of New Mexico and Governor Suzanna Martinez that the state of New Mexico was violating the constitutional rights of at-risk students by failing to provide them with a sufficient education. The consolidated lawsuit was filed by the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund.
The Yazzie/Martinez lawsuit, brought on by a coalition of parents, students, lawmakers and others in 2014, charged New Mexico had not done enough to address the needs of Native Americans, English-language learners, disabled and low-income students. The Plaintiffs argued that the New Mexico public schools were inadequately funded. All those student groups typically lag behind Anglo students when it comes to math and reading proficiency. While the court ruling did not apply a price tag to its mandate, it said New Mexico has to begin providing remedies for that problem.
In a 75-page decision, the Court ruling centered on the guaranteed right under the New Mexico Constitution to a sufficient education for all children. The lawsuit alleged a severe lack of state funding, resources and services to help students, particularly children from low-income families, students of color, including Native Americans, English-language learners and students with disabilities. The court rejected arguments by Governor Susana Martinez’s administration that the education system is improving and for that reason it does not need more funding. The Court found that the New Mexico Public Education Department (PED) did not do the best it could with the funding it has given by the legislature to the education system.
2022 LEGISLATIVE FUNDING
During the 2022 New Mexico Legislative session, a trio of bills to fund programs to help Native American students succeed in school past. The house bills provided more than $70 million to tribal entities to help offer culturally relevant lesson plans and access to virtual and after-school programs for those students.
On bill appropriated $20 million from the state’s general fund to the Indian Education Act to provide educational funding for tribes starting July 1, 2024. That money will be used to create culturally relevant learning programs, including Native language programs, for students in the K-12 system. A Legislative Education Study Committee report says if the bill becomes law, each of the state’s 23 tribal entities would receive $547,826 per year.
A second bill appropriated $21.5 million to help tribal education departments develop learning plans and programs for students, extend learning opportunities and support tribal school libraries. That bill also would take effect July 1, 2024. Each tribe and pueblo would get $250,000 a year, with the exception of the Navajo Nation, which would get $500,000, according to the bill’s fiscal report.
The third bill is aimed at higher education. It appropriates $29.6 million to four state colleges and three tribal colleges for 53 initiatives, such as building a Native American teacher pipeline and expanding high school-to-college programs to encourage those students to attend college. The bill’s fiscal impact report says it is assumed the bill would go into effect 90 days after the last day of the Legislature once Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed it into law.
There was no other legislative bills filed in the House of Representatives regarding the Yazzie/Martinez case. Lente said he thinks the push to address the court ruling has been led by Native Americans because “if we don’t do this, nobody is going to make it a priority.”
In the Senate, three Democrats have filed Senate Memorial 12, which asks the state Public Education Department to develop a “comprehensive plan” to address the needs of the student groups tied to the Yazzie/Martinez case and then annually report to the Legislature about the plan.
The link to quoted news source material is here:
The rankings and financial numbers are depressing and staggering. Notwithstanding the statistics, a glimmer of real hope came out of the 2022 legislative session building on the progress of the past two legislative sessions.
On February 17, the 2022 New Mexico Legislature 30-day legislative session came to an end. The 2022 New Mexico Legislature approved an $8.48 billion state budget, the largest budget in state history. The budget bill boosts state spending by $1 billion, nearly 14%, over current budget levels.
The enacted budget includes significant increases in spending in areas that should have a direct impact on major areas identified by the New Mexico Kids Count Data Book. The enacted budget includes increases in spending for public education and raises for educators, as well as funds going towards initiatives for local economic development projects and housing programs for homeless people.
Annual spending on K-12 grade public education is increased by $425 million to $3.87 billion, a 12% boost.
Annual Medicaid spending is increase by roughly $240 million to $1.3 billion as the federal government winds down pandemic-related subsidies to the program that gives free health care to the impoverished.
The budget contains salary increases of 7% for school districts and state government staff across the state. A minimum hourly wage of $15 for public employees and higher base salaries for teachers is provided.
The enacted budget extends free college tuition to most New Mexico residents pursuing two- and four-year degrees. $75 million is allocated to the “opportunity scholarship” program, providing free tuition and fees for New Mexico residents. Unlike the existing lottery scholarship, it would be open to adults long after high school graduation and could be used for part-time course loads.
The enacted budget fully funds home-based care for thousands of people who have had severe disabilities since childhood.
Pregnancy-related Medicaid coverage is extended for a year after births, up from two months, by spending $14 million. Most births in New Mexico are covered by Medicaid.
EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION AND CARE DEPARTMENT
The creation of the Early Childhood Education and Care Department was long overdue and it still offers the best potential in investing in New Mexico’s future that promises the biggest returns: our children. The new department is now focusing state resources on children from birth to 5 years of age. A major goal of the department, coupled with other investments, will be more New Mexico children growing up to secure gainful employment as adults who don’t require government services.
When it is all said and done, and the money spent and long gone, there is no guarantee that New Mexico rankings will get any better when it comes to children living in poverty. Notwithstanding, Albuquerque and New Mexico, and all of its leaders, have a moral obligation to do something to address poverty, children living in poverty and to protect our most venerable population, its children.