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For our youngest New Mexicans, now is the time

February 11, 2019

New Mexicans have recently seen a slew of articles about the chance for New Mexico to have a “moonshot” in education. Clearly, the energy of the new governor and her commitment to education presents us with opportunities we have not had in years. At the forefront of those opportunities is the chance to give our kids the very best start in life — the liftoff!

Senate Bill 22, which I introduced on the first day of the early filing period, creates a Department of Early Education and Care. This gives New Mexico a chance to focus on our commitment to kids from the very beginning. It is an idea years in the making and was first introduced two years ago by me and now Lt. Gov. Howie Morales. We worked hand in hand with the Early Childhood Development Partnership, early childhood educators, advocates, caregivers and communities throughout New Mexico to determine the best way to put the focus on early learning that our kids deserve. This bill does exactly that.

Today, leadership and funding for early childhood programs is scattered in pockets of state government. The Children, Youth and Families Department, Health and Human Services, the Public Education Department Head Start — all have some funding with focus on early childhood education or care. SB 22 takes the opportunity to align these services, achieve efficiencies, save taxpayer dollars and, most importantly, creates an environment for better outcomes for kids and their families! Here are some of the highlights:

SB 22 provides a separate home for Early Childhood Education and Care and a Cabinet secretary responsible to the governor. In addition, it:

• Advances high quality programming in all areas including home visiting, childcare, and three- and four-year-old pre-K.

• Addresses gaps in needs services in communities and incorporates local input.

• Develops data systems to effectively measure outcomes.

• Implements plans and actions for critically needed workforce development.

• Provides linguistically and culturally appropriate programs combined with a continuum of programming for all children from birth until kindergarten.

• Maintains the very successful “mixed delivery” model of services for 4-year-old pre-K — providing equal support for public schools and licensed providers.

And, an important and critical piece, it establishes a deputy position to work with tribal communities — something that has been ignored in the past.

Creating a Department of Early Childhood Education will allow CYFD to focus on its own important mission — child abuse and protective services, foster kids and families, juvenile justice and corrections — and for the Public Education Department, a concentration on the mission of making sure K-12 education works for everyone — kids, families, teachers, counselors and administrators — and local communities.

For our youngest New Mexicans and their families, it is the notion that now, finally, early education and care will no longer be a talking point or a stepchild to other departments but will have a home of its own to create the necessary focus and efficiencies for a quality program and an opportunity for every child to have the very best start in life.

Sen. Michael Padilla, D-Albuquerque, is sponsoring a bill to create a new department of early childhood education.

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