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Plan For Early-Ed. Expansion in New Mexico Meets Enthusiasm, Skepticism

A plan announced Sept. 3 by an association of early education advocates would increase state funding for early education in New Mexico, complete with a substitute pool, shared sick-leave, and professional development for teachers. 

Randi Weingarten, head of the American Federation of Teachers, flew into Albuquerque to help unveil the proposal. Whether her presence helped New Mexico State Sen. Michael Padilla, a Democrat and the majority whip, sell his long-term goal of bolstering public preschool in his state is debatable.

"It's remarkable that a special interest group would fly in its top brass from Washington, D.C., to lecture New Mexicans on how to educate their children," Chris Sanchez, a spokesperson for Republican Gov. Susana Martinez, told The Santa Fe New Mexican

The new proposal is the latest volley in an ongoing argument about whether or not to spend part of the state's $14 billion Land Grant Fund on early education. The plan would cost $175 million annually according to the story in the New Mexican. (I have not yet been able to determine how many children the plan would serve—the number is not listed in any of the local reporting, nor is it mentioned in the materials about the proposal I've found online. I will update this post when I have that answer.)

PEOPLE for the Kids, the group of child-care providers and parents who are championing the plan, are associated with New Mexico Early Educators United, which is a branch of AFT. The group's website also calls for the reinstatement of an 8 percent tax rate on the wealthiest New Mexicans to help cover state education costs.

Twenty-seven percent of New Mexican 4-year-olds were enrolled in state-funded preschool in the 2013-14 school year, according to the latest report by National Institute for Early Education Research. Another 15 percent of 4-year-olds were enrolled in Head Start, a federally funded program, and 7 percent were enrolled in special education programs. That's in line with national averages.

New Mexico ranks 49th for child well-being according to the 2015 Kids' Count national survey of economic, health and education indicators.

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