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NM Pre-K Good; Advocates Say Funding Could Make It Better

The State Preschool Yearbook shows how well - or not - early-childhood education is being provided across the country. (Flickr/Creative Commons)
The State Preschool Yearbook shows how well - or not - early-childhood education is being provided across the country. (Flickr/Creative Commons)
May 26, 2017

SANTA FE, N.M. – The annual State of Preschool yearbook was released by the National Institute of Early Education Research this week, and it shows varying quality and quantity of pre-kindergarten education between the states in 2016.

Steve Barnett is the director of the Institute at Rutgers University, and he calls this report a big question mark since pre-K was so adversely affected by the recession. He also says that New Mexico is among the states that have improved education for students younger than five years old.

"Nationally, 32 percent of four-year-olds are enrolled in state-funded pre-K, and New Mexico serves about a third," he says. "So that's a big improvement over where New Mexico was just a few short years ago."

Some states provide early education universally, while others target their more underserved populations, Barnett says. Fifteen states serve less than five percent of their population and seven of those don't provide state-funded pre-K at all.

Along with matching the national average for how many pre-K students are provided education by the state of New Mexico, Barnett says quality ranks high in the Land of Enchantment. Where it falls short, however, is in staff qualifications. Teachers and their aids aren't required to have a college degree to teach preschool in the state, and Barnett says that is a matter of funding.

In states such as New Mexico where budget problems have affected education so adversely, he's reluctant to let optimism go on without reserve.

"States really made progress, so we want to celebrate that great news," he stresses. "But we don't know yet whether it's a turning point, and states are going to continue moving in a positive direction, or if it was just a blip. Only time will tell."

The institute introduced major revisions to policy benchmarks that increase scrutiny over classroom quality for the first time since the yearbook was launched in 2001. This report shows how preschools scored under both criteria.

Brett McPherson, Public News Service - NM