2023 Annual Kids Count Report Again Ranks New Mexico 50th In Child Wellbeing; Repairing Damage Done By Republican Gov. Martinez To State’s Public Education System Taking Time To Implement Reforms Under Gov. MLG  

“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 June 14, 2023, the New Mexico Voices for Children released the “2023 Kids Count Data Book, State Trends In Child Well Being.” 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” this year is a 50  page document with an extensive number of tables, graphs charts and statistics

The link to the 2023 Kids Count Data Book is here:

Click to access aecf-2023kidscountdatabook-2023.pdf


 New Mexico ranked 50th in child well-being  in the 2023 report and ranked 50th  in  child well-being in 2020, 2019 and 2018, and  ranked 49th from 2017 through 2014.

There are 4 major areas of concentration in the Kids Count Data Book with each having 4 indicators. The 4 areas of concentration are:

Economic Well Being



Family and Community.

The nutshell breakdown of the national statistics and New Mexico statistics in the 2023 Kids Count Data Book are as follows:


“Children in poverty” is the percentage of children under age 18 who live in families with incomes below 100% of the U.S. poverty threshold, as defined each year by the U.S. Census Bureau. In 2021, a family of two adults and two children lived in poverty if the family’s annual income fell below $27,479.

Children whose parents lack secure employment is the share of all children under age 18 who live in families where no parent has regular, full-time, year-round employment. For children in single-parent families, this means the resident parent did not work at least 35 hours per week for at least 50 weeks in the 12 months prior to the survey.

Children living in households with a high housing cost burden is the percentage of children under age 18 who live in households where more than 30% of monthly household pretax income is spent on housing-related expenses, including rent, mortgage payments, taxes and insurance.

Teens not in school and not working is the percentage of teenagers between ages 16 and 19 who are not enrolled in school (full or part time) and not employed (full or part time).

Nationally when it comes to ECONOMIC WELL BEING,  17% (12,243,000) of children in the country live in poverty (year 2021),  29% (21,143,000)  of children nationally have parents who lack secure employment (year 2021), 30% (21,857,000)  of children live in households with a high housing cost burden (year 2021) and 7% (1,234,000) of teens were not in school and not working. (Page 12)

New Mexico ranked 49th in ECONOMIC WELL-BEING RANKING, with 24% (111,000) of New Mexico children living in poverty, 35% (165,000) of New Mexico Children whose parents lack secure employment, 26% (125,000) of New Mexico children living in households with a high housing cost burden, and 12% (14,000) of teens not in school and not working.  (Page 34)


Young children not in school is the percentage of children ages 3 and 4 who were not enrolled in school (e.g., nursery school, preschool or kindergarten) during the previous three months.

Fourth-graders not proficient in reading is the percentage of fourth-grade public school students who did not reach the proficient level in reading as measured by the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

Eighth-graders not proficient in math is the percentage of eighth-grade public school students who did not reach the proficient level in math as measured by the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

High school students not graduating on time is the percentage of an entering freshman class not graduating in four years

Nationally, from 2012 to 2016,  53% (4,380,000) of young children (ages 3 and 4)  were not in school and from 2017 to 2021 the number increased by 1%  to 54%. In 2019, the number of 4th graders not proficient in reading was 66% and it increased and got worse in 2022 and was 69%.  In 2019,  67% of eighth-graders nationally were not proficient in math and that number became worse in 2022 with 74% of eighth-graders nationally were not proficient in math.  For the two years of 2018 to 2020, the number of  High school students not graduating on time remained the same at 14%.  (Page 12)

New Mexico ranked 50th in education, with 59% (30,000) (years 2017 to 2021) young children ages 3 to 4 not in school,  4th graders not proficient in reading (year 2022) grew from 76% to 79%, 87% of eighth graders not proficient in math (year 2022) and 23% of high school students not graduating on time (years 2019 to 2020).  (Page 35)  Fourth graders not proficient at reading


Low birth-weight babies is the percentage of live births weighing less than 5.5 pounds (2,500 grams).

Children without health insurance is the percentage of children under age 19 not covered by any health insurance.

Child and teen deaths per 100,000 is the number of deaths, from all causes, of children between ages 1 and 19 per 100,000 children in this age range.

Children and teens who are overweight or obese is the percentage of children and teens ages 10 to 17 with a Body Mass Index (BMI)-for-age at or above the 85th percentile.

Nationally, in 2021  the number of low birth-weight babies was 8.5% (311,932) of all births.  In 2021, the number of  children without health insurance was 5% , a decrease of 6% from 2020, with 4,165,00 children do be without health insurance. The number of  child and teen deaths per 100,000 went from 25 in 2019 to 30 in 2021. Children and teens (ages 10 to 17) who are overweight or obese went from 31% in 2018-2019 to 33% in 2020-2021. (Page 13)

New Mexico 44th in health rankings , above Alabama (45),  Wyoming (46) South Carolina (47) Texas (48) Louisiana (49), Mississippi (50). New Mexico had 9.4% (2,009) low birth rate babies in 2021, 6% (32,000) children without health insurance in 2021, 217 child and teen deaths per 100,000 in 2021 ranking the state 43, and with the state ranking 36 in children and teens (ages 10 to 17) who were overweight or obese. (Page 36)


Children in single-parent families is the percentage of children under age 18 who live with their own unmarried parents. Children not living with a parent are excluded. In this definition, single-parent families include cohabiting couples.

Children in families where the household head lacks a high school diploma is the percentage of children under age 18 who live in households where the head of the household does not have a high school diploma or equivalent.

Children living in high-poverty areas is the percentage of children under age 18 who live in census tracts where the poverty rates of the total population are 30% or more. In 2021, a family of two adults and two children lived in poverty if the family’s annual income fell below $27,479.

Teen births per 1,000 is the number of births to teenagers ages 15 to 19 per 1,000 females in this age group. Data reflect the mother’s place of residence, not the place where the birth occurred.

Nationally, the number of children in single-parent families was 34%  23,626,000  for 2019 to 2021.  Children in families where the household head lacks a high school diploma was 12% (8,269,000)  in 2019 and 11% in 2021. Children living in high-poverty areas was 13% from 2012 to 2016 and 8% (6,086,000) from 2017 to 2021. Teen births in the United State per 1,000 US went from 17% in 2019 to 14% (146,973) in 2021. (Page 13)

New Mexico ranked 48th in family and community (above  Louisiana (49) and Mississippi (50))  with 44% (196,000) children living with single parent families,  12% (59,000) of children living in families where the household head lacks a high school diploma in  the years 2017 to 2021,  and the state having a 19% teen birth rate per 1,000 births, 1,324 births in 2021.  (Page 37)

Click to access aecf-2023kidscountdatabook-2023.pdf


The annual Kids Count report did highlight progress made in New Mexico.  According to the report:

The share of children in living Children in poverty in poverty fell 7% from 31% in 2015 to 24% in 2022.  The improvement came despite the national trend remaining flat in the same time period.

The share of children living without health insurance dropped from 10% in the 2012 report to 6% in this year’s report.

The rate of teen births per 1,000 population fell from 24 to 19 between 2019 and 2021.

The share of high school students not graduating on time also improved.

The share of high school students not graduating on time also improved, as did the percentage of children living in households where the head adult lacks a high school diploma.

Share of children in single-parent families was 44%  and was unchanged between 2019 and 2021.

Since 2010, New Mexico has seen a 20% improvement in child poverty. New Mexico students not graduating high school on time has improved by 38% since 2010. The number of New Mexico children who lack health insurance has improved by 45% and teen births in the state have improved by 64% since 2010.


The report also outlines deterioration in the following areas:

The percentage of children whose parents lack secure employment climbed from 32% in 2019 to 35% in 2021.

Fourth graders not proficient at reading grew from 76% to 79% between 2019 and 2022. Eighth graders not proficient in math jumped from 79% to 87%, figures that reflect changes between 2019 and 2022.

87% of eighth graders were reported as not proficient in math last year, an 8 point decline since 2019.

Child and teen deaths per 100,000 population increased from 36 in 2019 to 43 in 2021.

Teens not in school and not working increased by 1%, up from 11% in 2019 to 12% in 2021.


Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham’ s office  reacted defensively to the 2023 Kids Count Report and the states 50th in child wellbeing  ranking.  Governor spokeswoman Caroline Sweeney said the report largely reflects data from 2021, halfway through the governor’s first term and in the middle of the pandemic. Sweeny said the administration has carried out policies recommended in the report, including the allocation of federal relief funds to stabilize child care during the pandemic, waiving copays for families and boosting the pay of child care workers. Sweeney said this in a statement:

“It is not an accurate representation of today’s data related to child welfare.”

House Speaker Javier Martínez, D-Albuquerque, for his part said the 2023 Kids Count Report helped show why lawmakers and others pushed so long for the 2022 constitutional amendment.  Enactment of the amendment is expected to generate an extra $240 million a year for early childhood education and K-12 schools. Speaker Martinez had this to say in a statement:

“While we know that the 2021 data in this report does not reflect all of our recent progress. … These numbers do underscore the urgent need for continued investment in our kids and working families, so that every kid in our state gets the education and the opportunities they deserve.”

Amber Wallin, the executive director of New Mexico Voices for Children that released the 2023 Kids Count Report also noted that much of the report is based on 2022 statistics.  Wallin noted  the state is outpacing the nation in its overall progress and in several individual categories. She said that as the state has improved, so have other states in individual categories and that states such as Vermont or Pennsylvania have “very different challenges than we do.”

Wallin said the state has launched new programs that will  take time to show up in the annual report and  many of the state policies recently implemented will create generational change and New Mexico might not see the real impacts of some recent policy changes until children under the age of five now have kids of their own.

Wallin noted the state dramatically expanded a child care assistance program in mid-2021,  the year much of the data is based on and noted voters just last year authorized major  increases in the funding available for early childhood education and K-12 schools. Wallin said the COVID-19 pandemic blunted some of the state’s improvement, but she credited New Mexico for expansion of a child tax credit and other policy changes that should make a difference.

Wallin said in a statement:

“The data show that the state must keep pushing itself to create opportunities for all New Mexico kids to thrive. …  We’ve also seen progress in most indicators, and many recent family-focused state policy changes give us strong reasons to expect that we’ll continue to see improvements in the future. … If we were strictly comparing New Mexico to itself from a decade ago, it’s clear we’ve made remarkable progress.”

Wallin also highlighted some recent New Mexico tax policy change which replaced a temporary federal child tax credit available to qualifying families for the last six months of 2021. New Mexico replaced that temporary federal policy in the 2022 legislature with a state tax credit that allows for up to $600 per child annually for qualifying families. Wallin said New Mexico was one of the first five states in the nation to make that state child tax credit available.

Wallin said it is also important for the state to diversify its economy to avoid the boom and bust budget cycles impacted by the boom and bust nature of oil and gas revenue. Wallin said this:

“We want to diversify the economy so we have financial resources to invest in programs now and well into the future.”


The Republican Party of New Mexico in response to the “2023 Kids Count Data Book” report  said Democrats deserve blame for the rankings  following the legislature’s failure of proposals to overhaul the state’s child-welfare agency.  Democrats control the Governor’s Office and both legislative chambers.

On Twitter, the Republican  party said this:

“[These] rankings  fall on their shoulders. It is in no way acceptable to hold children in this dire situation year after year.”

On its own website, the conservative Rio Grande Foundation, a group that advocates for limited government, said the decline in academic outcomes can only  be partially attributed to pandemic policy choices, such as school closures.




New Mexico’s ranking of dead last at number 50,  just behind Louisiana at 49 and Mississippi at 48, is very disheartening.   New Mexico has ranked 49th or 50th every year since 2012. What guaranteed  the state to come in last was its  deteriorating academic outcomes in reading and math. This year’s ranking took into account the state’s worsening rates of reading and math proficiency among students with an analysis that compared 2019 outcomes to 2022.


What is do damn laughable is how the Republican Party plays the blame game and says “[These] rankings  fall on the  shoulders [of democrats]. It is in no way acceptable to hold children in this dire situation year after year.” Republicans conveniently and simply ignore the damage done to the state’s public education system during the full 8 years of Governor Susana Martinez (2011–2019) who engaged it a full throttle attack on and practically destroyed the New Mexico’s public education system.

During her 8 years in office, Republicans had control of the House for a period of time and aided and abetted Martinez in all the disastrous public education policies she wanted.  Martinez’s reelection victory in 2014 helped Republicans seized control of the New Mexico House of Representatives for the first time in 60 years. Republicans ended up with a 37-33 advantage in the House.


Throughout her 8 years as Governor, Martinez was at odds with teachers over the controversial Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC, tests.  Republican Governor Susana Martinez, with her policies and her Secretary of Public Education appointments, especially the appointment of Secretary Hanna Skandera, contributed and resulted in a failing education system.

Things for New Mexico’s children historically got worse during the 8 years under Governor Martinez’s leadership. According to 2018 Kids Count Data Book, for the first time  New Mexico  fell  last among states when it came to the economic, educational and medical well-being of its children.  The most troubling decline reported was  New Mexico’s steep drop in ranking for health care measures which previously was a bright spot for the state.

According to the 2018 Kids Count Data Book, 30% of New Mexico’s children were living in poverty in 2016, compared to 19% nationwide that year, the earliest figures available. In educational measures, the report said  75% of the state’s fourth-graders were not proficient in reading in 2017, compared to 65% nationally, and 80% of eighth-graders were not performing up to par in math in 2017, compared to 67% across the U.S.


The 2023 Kids Count Data Book now reports New Mexico ranks  49th in ECONOMIC WELL-BEING RANKING, with 24% (111,000) of New Mexico children living in poverty while under Martinez it was reported as 30%. 


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.  In her 75-page decision, the court rejected arguments by Governor Susana Martinez’s administration that the education system was improving and for that reason it did  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 was given by the legislature to the education system.

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 Judge found that it was clear that many New Mexico students were not receiving the basic education in reading, writing and math they should be receiving in our public-school system. As a matter of law, Judge Singleton wrote the “lack of funds is not a defense to providing constitutional rights.”

In her blistering written opinion, Judge Singleton wrote:

“[The evidence presented at trial] proves that the vast majority of New Mexico’s at-risk children finish each school year without the basic literacy and math skills needed to pursue post-secondary education or a career. … Indeed, overall New Mexico children rank at the very bottom in the country for educational achievement. … The at-risk students are still not attaining proficiency at the rate of non-at-risk students … and the programs being lauded by [the Public Education Department] are not changing this picture.”

According to the judge’s ruling, in New Mexico, at the time, 71.6% of the state’s public school students come from low-income families, and 14.4% are English-language learners. Further, 14.8 percent of students have disabilities, and 10.6 percent are Native American. Judge Singleton addressing proficiency rates for Native American students said that in the previous 3 years, those students’ reading proficiency was at 17.6% and their math proficiency was at 10.4%.


Judge Singleton faulted the lack of access to technology in rural districts. The Court also found that New Mexico does not have enough teachers and that New Mexico teachers are among the lowest paid in the country and stated:

“The evidence shows that school districts do not have the funds to pay for all the teachers they need. … [An example is] Gadsden, one of the better performing school districts in the state, has had to eliminate over 53 classroom positions and 15 essential teachers since 2008.”


One of the cruelest things that Governor Martinez did as Governor that  had a direct impact on New Mexico children’s  health and well being  was that she ordered an “audit” of mental health services by nonprofits in New Mexico which devastated New Mexico’s behavioral health system. More than 160,000 New Mexicans received behavioral health services in 2014, with most of those services funded by Medicaid, according to the Human Services Department.

In June 2013, under the direction of Governor Martinez, the Human Services Department cut off Medicaid funding to 15 behavioral health nonprofits operating in New Mexico. The Martinez Administration said that the outside audit showed more than $36 million in overbilling, as well as mismanagement and possible fraud.

The Martinez Human Services Department agency brought in the 5 Arizona providers to take over. In early 2016, at least 13 of the 15 nonprofits that were shut down were exonerated of fraud by New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas.

Then Attorney General Hector Balderas found no fraud and cleared the nonprofits of fraud but  the damage had been done to the nonprofits and many just went out of business. Three of the five Arizona providers brought in by Governor Susana Martinez’s administration in 2013 to replace the New Mexico nonprofits pulled up stakes in the state and the mental health system is still recovering from the damage.



The New Mexico legislature has been very aggressive when it comes to funding to try and turn things around for New Mexico’s children as a result of Yazzie v. Governor Suzanna Martinez.

In fiscal year 2019, public education funding spiked. 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.

Funding  spike in 2019  and was up to $306 million, including the following:

$64 million for Pre-K to better prepare children for elementary school.

$45 million for family, infant, toddler programs to help families with children with developmental delays.

$30 million for K-3 Plus to add 25 days to the school year.

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.

In 2020 the New Mexico Legislature created a $320 million early childhood education trust fund.

In 2021, lawmakers and the governor agreed to up the spending on early childhood programs to $500 million.

During the 2022 New Mexico Legislative session, a trio of bills were enacted  to fund programs to help Native American students succeed in school. 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.

The first bill appropriated $20 million from the state’s general fund to the Indian Education Act to be used to create culturally relevant learning programs, including Native language programs, for students in the K-12 system.

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.

The third bill was aimed at higher education and  appropriated $29.6 million to four state colleges and three tribal colleges for 53 initiatives.

In 2022, voters approved tapping the state’s Land Grant Permanent Fund for roughly another $240 million annually for early childhood education and K-12 schools. The additional distribution of funding from the Permanent Land Grant Fund goes into effect on July 1. The Early Childhood Education and Care Department recently reported it will experience a 68% increase in funding for Fiscal Year 2024.

The link to news source on funding is here:



It has been  5  years since the July 20, 2018 landmark ruling of Yazzie v. State of New Mexico and Governor Suzanna Martinez.  The original court opinion was a confirmation of what went on for the full 8 years of the prior Republican Administration. The 5 years since the July 20, 2018 landmark education case has not been enough time to turn things around and pull the education car out of the ditch and make the necessary repairs. The blunt truth is it will take years for the state to get on track, perhaps a decade to implement all the changes mandated.

The rankings and financial numbers are depressing and staggering and it has been going on for way too many years. The pandemic no doubt has had an impact on implementing the public education reforms and has contributed to the state’s dismal ranking in the Kids Count Report ranking.  Notwithstanding, sooner rather than later the public has the right to demand tangible results and ultimately our public education system needs to produce and can no longer use the excuse that there has not been enough spending.

The link to a related blog article is here:


After Over 3 Years, Court Mandated Education Program Funding Advances In 2022 NM Legislative Session; Yazzie v. Martinez Court Ruling Revisited

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Pete Dinelli was born and raised in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He is of Italian and Hispanic descent. He is a 1970 graduate of Del Norte High School, a 1974 graduate of Eastern New Mexico University with a Bachelor's Degree in Business Administration and a 1977 graduate of St. Mary's School of Law, San Antonio, Texas. Pete has a 40 year history of community involvement and service as an elected and appointed official and as a practicing attorney in Albuquerque. Pete and his wife Betty Case Dinelli have been married since 1984 and they have two adult sons, Mark, who is an attorney and George, who is an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT). Pete has been a licensed New Mexico attorney since 1978. Pete has over 27 years of municipal and state government service. Pete’s service to Albuquerque has been extensive. He has been an elected Albuquerque City Councilor, serving as Vice President. He has served as a Worker’s Compensation Judge with Statewide jurisdiction. Pete has been a prosecutor for 15 years and has served as a Bernalillo County Chief Deputy District Attorney, as an Assistant Attorney General and Assistant District Attorney and as a Deputy City Attorney. For eight years, Pete was employed with the City of Albuquerque both as a Deputy City Attorney and Chief Public Safety Officer overseeing the city departments of police, fire, 911 emergency call center and the emergency operations center. While with the City of Albuquerque Legal Department, Pete served as Director of the Safe City Strike Force and Interim Director of the 911 Emergency Operations Center. Pete’s community involvement includes being a past President of the Albuquerque Kiwanis Club, past President of the Our Lady of Fatima School Board, and Board of Directors of the Albuquerque Museum Foundation.