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NM Legislators to Hear Need to Improve Kids' Well-Being

New Mexico legislators begin a new session today under a court order to file an initial plan to fix the state's schools by April 15. (mcsk12nm)
New Mexico legislators begin a new session today under a court order to file an initial plan to fix the state's schools by April 15. (mcsk12nm)
January 15, 2019

SANTA FE, N.M. — As part of opening day at the 2019 New Mexico Legislature, the state's Voices for Children group will highlight its annual New Mexico KIDS COUNT Data Book.

Deputy Director Amber Wallin said there have been improvements in teen birth rates, increased rates of kids covered by insurance, higher preschool enrollment and reduced child poverty. But the state's dead-last ranking for child well-being reported last summer means lawmakers have more work to do.

"We see big disparities for children of color, and that our rankings in many indicator areas -including the fact that we are now last in the nation, 50th in overall child well-being - all of those things are really holding us back from making progress for our kids,” Wallin said.

A 2018 court ruling found that New Mexico is violating the rights of at-risk students by not providing adequate resources for low-income and minority families. Advocates for children would like to see some of the anticipated budget surplus from the state's booming oil and gas industry directed to education.

But Wallin, deputy director at New Mexico Voices fo Children, said if New Mexico is going to provide sustainable education funding, it can't rely on revenues from the roller-coaster oil and gas industry, and should instead reform its tax system.

"Spending some of that surplus will only get us part of the way there,” she said. “What we need to do is ensure that we have revenues every single year to fund education."

The court ruling requiring New Mexico to address inequities in its education system stemmed from a lawsuit filed in 2014 by advocacy groups and school districts.

Wallin said New Mexico's children have been left behind at the expense of other groups and would benefit from more pre-kindergarten and expanded home-visiting programs.

"There's businesses up there and they have expensive, really well-paid lobbyists who are up there advocating every day for tax breaks for their businesses and better conditions for their businesses,” she said. “We've seen that, so that's why we feel it's important to advocate on behalf of New Mexico's children."

Newly elected Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has promised to address the state's low education rankings.

Roz Brown, Public News Service - NM