New Mexico Leaders Work to Make ‘Your State Your Village’

In 2022, New Mexico gained nationwide attention as the first state to guarantee the right to early childhood education through a constitutional amendment approved by 70% of voters. This landmark decision positioned early care and education on par with K-12 education, acknowledging its importance as a public good. The amendment also allocated funding from the state’s Land Grant Permanent Fund for early learning purposes.

As many states, including North Carolina, face the impending expiration of federal funds that support child care programs, they struggle to find permanent funding sources to sustain their early childhood systems. To understand how New Mexico achieved its historic victory and what other states can learn, EdNC visited the state.

New Mexico’s pioneering approach was born out of its unique circumstances. Despite being one of the poorest states in the country with low educational outcomes in the K-12 system, policymakers, philanthropists, and advocates recognized the need to prioritize early childhood programs. They expanded pre-K and home visiting programs, improved early childhood teacher training, and established collaborative initiatives and legislative caucuses focused on early childhood.

The Thornburg Foundation played a crucial role in coordinating these efforts. As a nonprofit organization with an evidence-based approach to systemic problem-solving, the foundation provided funding, strategic planning, and guidance to ensure a unified direction.

In 2019, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham and the state legislature created the Early Childhood Education & Care Department (ECECD) to consolidate and elevate early childhood services. Previously, these services were dispersed among multiple departments and lacked priority. The business community, recognizing the impact of education on economic development, supported the establishment of a dedicated department to improve coordination and accountability.

The ECECD received significant funding from two permanent sources. The Land Grant Permanent Fund, which allocates approximately $150 million annually, was secured in 2022. Another substantial funding source is the New Mexico Early Childhood Education and Care Fund, created in 2020 and funded by oil and gas revenue. In 2023, this fund provided an additional $150 million to the department, with projections estimating its value to reach $9.8 billion by 2028.

These substantial investments have had a transformative impact. Unlike other states facing financial cliffs with the expiration of federal funds, New Mexico has replaced these funds with state resources to sustain access and quality. The department has raised subsidy reimbursement rates and adopted cost-based models to determine provider payments. These measures have not only increased access to affordable child care but have also enhanced the quality of early childhood programs.

At Kids

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