Ledes from the Land of Enchantment

NM Speaker touts state’s early childhood programs before congressional committee • Source New Mexico

The speaker of the New Mexico House of Representatives told a joint congressional committee Wednesday that the state’s strategy for early childhood education and services leads the nation and should be replicated. 

State Rep. Javier Martinez (D-Albuquerque) spoke before the Joint Economic Committee, chaired by U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-NM), on Wednesday in Washington, D.C. Other expert witnesses included national child and education advocates across the political spectrum, including from the conservative Heritage Foundation and Cato Institute. 

Martinez described a “robust” array of services for very young children and their parents as essential investments for the state’s future success. 

In 2022, the state tapped its Land Grant Permanent Fund to provide about $127 million annually for early childhood education after voters passed a measure approving the transfer The state in 2020 also created an Early Childhood Trust Fund, which Martinez said is projected to grow to nearly $445 million by mid-2027. 

All those investments, Martinez told the committee, will help tackle the enormous challenges facing New Mexico children: 80% of births in the state are to parents on Medicaid, and more than half of children are born into a single parent household. 

“When we talk about it taking a village to raise a child in New Mexico, we are having to rebuild that village,” Martinez said. “And that is the work that we’ve undertaken over the last few years.”

Heinrich, in his opening remarks, said the recent actions in New Mexico have increased childcare provider pay and allowed some parents to return to careers they’d put on hold to raise their children.

But the notion of universal pre-Kindergarten and childcare drew criticism from congressional Republicans and the experts they invited, who said the evidence that such programs were effective was out-dated and said they are designed to push more parents into the workforce even if they’d prefer to stay home raising their kids. 

“I’m sure a lot of single moms –  and a lot of dads, too – would like to spend more time at home with their children during those formative years,” Sen. J.D. Vance (R-Ohio) said. “And our answer to them is you’ve got to go to the workforce because that’s what’s going to raise GDP.”

One exchange in the 90-minute hearing focused on whether Congress, instead of making childcare and pre-K universal, should expand the use of tax-exempt savings accounts to help parents pay for education expenses while one parent cares for the child at home. 

So-called 529 savings accounts were expanded via Trump-era tax reforms to allow parents to use them to pay for K-12 education, not just college. Lindsay Burke, director of the Heritage Foundation’s Center for Education Policy, called on Congress to go a step further: Allowing parents to also use the accounts for childcare and pre-Kindergarten. 

“You tell everybody in your family, ‘Contribute to my 529,’” she said. “You’re then able to build a pretty decent nest egg, by the time you are eligible for preschool, to actually pay for that out of pocket.”

But Heinrich, who said he is generally supportive of those tax-free education savings accounts, said that wouldn’t be enough to allow people in New Mexico, in particular, to afford paying for preschool or college. 

“The reality of most New Mexicans, most of my constituents, when their freshmen, college age, children start university, they don’t have a 529 of any substantial means,” he said. 

Martinez agreed, citing the low federal minimum wage, saying that families simply can’t afford to stay home with their kids. 

“How can you afford to stay at home with your newborn?” he said. “This is not about forcing people into the workforce for the purposes of increasing GDP. This is about families and being able to raise and nurture our children.”

 

The full hearing is here

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