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Kids Count: NM Kids Need Help, Starting With the Youngest

January 25, 2011

SANTA FE, N.M. - More than one in four New Mexico children live in poverty, according to the new "Kids Count" report issued today, and one in five have no health insurance. But Christine Hollis, New Mexico Voices for Children's "Kids Count" director, says lawmakers and the state can take steps to improve the situation.

The place to start, she says, is with programs for our youngest children.

"We can build and support high-quality early education for children, and that includes programs such as prenatal care, home-visiting programs, child-care assistance and pre-K programs."

Hollis says early-education programs prepare students for kindergarten and elementary grades, and can make a dent in other areas where the state's students struggle.

"(Early education) helps lead to an increase in reading proficiency by third grade, an increase in high school graduation rates, and increasing the number of children who go on to college."

The Kids Count report found less than half of New Mexico children attend a preschool program, only one of every five can read proficiently by fourth grade, and a third don't graduate from high school.

Hollis says it's important that early-education programs be universally available and affordable because the statistics for minority children in New Mexico are often even more grim.

"In our state, we just really have to take steps to address sort of racial and ethnic disparities."

Hollis says Maryland succeeded in reducing racial and ethnic disparities by improving early-education programs and connecting them to kindergarten and the early grades.

The new report is to be released at an event at the State Capitol rotunda at 1 p.m. today, in conjunction with another report that details community conversations held across the state. That report found New Mexicans share significant common ground when it comes to valuing early education and finding ways to pay for it.

More details on the reports are available at nmvoices.org.

Eric Mack, Public News Service - NM