Our baby steps toward expanding early childhood services are not getting us far

By Bill Jordan, MA, is Senior Policy Advisor/Governmental Relations for NM Voices for Children

Thousands of adorable and inquisitive youngsters are trotting off to school for the first time this month.

From all around the state these wide-eyed kiddos are beginning their school adventures. In honor of this new class, we thought we’d look back at how New Mexico prepared them for school, and look forward to how babies born this year will fare in their preschool years.

In 2010, the year this new class was born, 30,733 of New Mexico’s children were enrolled in the state’s early childhood programs that help children prepare for school: home visiting, pre-kindergarten, and child care assistance. If you think that sounds like a lot, it’s actually only about a quarter of all our preschoolers. Think that’s bad? It gets worse.

Despite all the legislative activity around early childhood services, only 28,701 children—or about 2,000 fewer—are benefiting from these same early learning programs this year. Enrollment has increased for both home visiting and pre-K—and that’s great—but nearly 8,000 children have been dropped from the child care assistance roles. That’s especially troubling because that’s the program that serves children for most of their preschool years. While home visiting focuses on the first year or two of life, and pre-K serves only four-year-olds, child care assistance serves kids throughout their preschool years.

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