Invest in children

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By Optic Editorial Board

A three-day series in last week’s Albuquerque Journal highlighted the growing sentiment that states need to invest in early childhood programs and even prenatal care in order to gain ground in student achievement.

It’s an important topic and one we should all pay attention to, given that New Mexico has long struggled with getting students to succeed in the classroom. Indeed, the 2013 National Kids Count Data Book ranks New Mexico last in overall child well being.

The series, by Journal investigative reporter Colleen Heild, references research showing that 90 percent of a child’s brain develops in the first three years of life. Those types of findings are reinforcing the importance of home visits to at-risk families, prekindergarten and childcare assistance.

To their credit, the legislature and the governor have been pumping more money into those types of programs.

According to the Journal, state lawmakers increased the early childhood budget this year to nearly $200 million, up from $137 million two years ago.

But there are still children out there who aren’t getting the services they need, and we, as a state, need to do everything we can to change that. The future of our state and of its economy depends on our getting this right.

New Mexico Voices for Children is pushing for an increase in the payout from a state permanent fund to provide additional money for early childhood programs. Given what’s at stake, the governor and state lawmakers should give that serious consideration. After, all, what better investment is there?

New Mexico Voices for Children is also pushing for an increase in the hourly minimum wage from $7.50 to $10.10, saying it would help a fifth of children by increasing at least one parent’s income. We worry that that proposal could backfire, driving up the cost of groceries and other necessities and leaving more low-wage earners unemployed as businesses scramble to contain costs. The proposal should be studied to determine whether the benefits outweigh the negatives.

But we also need to realize that no amount of money is going to fix this problem if parents aren’t willing to turn off the television and get to work reading to their children and fostering their curiosity.

Boosting student achievement is going to take everyone, from parents and teachers to businesses and elected officials.

Let’s roll up our sleeves and make this happen.