Now is the time to fund pre-K programs
This opinion piece originally appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News on 2/3/2019.
Opinion: Teresa Salazar, Superintendent, Moriarty-Edgewood Public Schools
This is a big year for New Mexico. The new governor has promised a “moonshot” for education and public schools are ready for it.
We are hopeful that part of that moonshot includes pre-kindergarten. The governor is calling for universal pre-K and we stand in support and ready to open up our public pre-K programs even more to serve our youngest learners.
The benefits of pre-K are indisputable. Pre-K is a sure bet. Study after study — both in New Mexico and nationally — have shown that children who attend high-quality, full-day pre-K read earlier, are better prepared for kindergarten and elementary school, and are more likely to graduate. And that means lower poverty rates, fewer crimes, a more skilled workforce and a stronger economy for the state. In a nutshell, pre-K benefits children, families and the state.
But today, there are over 14,000 New Mexico children who are eligible for pre-K but do not have access. The incremental funding that the state has provided has been critical, helping to create the over 5,000 high-quality pre-K seats currently in New Mexico’s public schools. Now it’s time to expand pre-K to ensure that every 4-year-old can have access if they want it. We need a stable plan for expansion and growth of pre-K so that all New Mexico public schools can provide pre-K in their communities.
The Moriarty-Edgewood School District was a plaintiff in the recent lawsuit that sought to ensure that all children had equal access to education. Just before the winter holiday, Judge Sarah Singleton issued her "Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law And Order re Final Judgment" on the Martinez/Yazzie education lawsuit against the State of New Mexico. She found that the current discretionary funding method for public school pre-K leaves thousands of students without pre-K. But the state equalization guarantee, known as the school funding formula, is an exemplary method of funding because it seeks to “provide each student equal access to programs and services appropriate to his or her educational needs regardless of geographic location or local economic conditions.”
That’s why I’m supporting SB298. It’s a bill to create universal, high-quality, pre-K for 4-year-olds through the public schools and fund it through the state equalization guarantee. This proposal ensures that there will be space for every 4-year-old who wants it and the funding for pre-K will be part of the structure of how public schools are funded. That means that more school districts will provide pre-K, ensuring that more children have access.
SB298 also maintains the 50/50 split with private providers by dramatically expanding pre-K for 3-year-olds through the existing private provider network. Private providers are our partners and we’re glad to have meaningful local collaborations to serve our youngest learners.
Here’s what won’t work — simply creating a new early education department to coordinate funds and study the problem. It’s time for real action. A new department can work, but alone, it does not create more pre-K. We’ve studied the problem diligently already — the state’s Legislative Finance Committee has shown that high-quality New Mexico pre-K works, year after year. It’s time to create seats and access to pre-K for everyone in every corner of the state and fund it in a way that will satisfy Judge Singleton’s findings — through the public school funding formula.
Gov. Lujan Grisham was a passionate advocate for universal, public school pre-K during her campaign. New Mexico is ready to join the 11 other states that fund pre-K through the funding formula to ensure stable funding, predictable growth and equitable access.
The moonshot begins with our youngest learners. By making sure every child has access to high-quality pre-K, the moon is in reach.