Samantha Sanchez, 10, reads for 20 minutes in Sharon Scarlott’s class at Gonzales Community School in Santa Fe on Dec. 20, 2013. The Martinez administration had proposed $13.5 million for remediation and intervention for students struggling to read in kindergarten through third grade. The easiest number to understand in the just-released 2019 Annie E. Casey Kid’s Count report is that New Mexico ranks 50th overall in child well-being. That’s a stark ranking, the second year in a row New Mexico earned that distinction.
U.S. District Judge Kenneth Gonzales laid out the stakes in a long-simmering lawsuit over the Human Services Department’s record of denying food stamp and Medicaid benefits to eligible New Mexicans during a status hearing Thursday at the federal courthouse in Las Cruces. U.S. District Judge Kenneth Gonzales
He’d visited the HSD office on Utah Street in Las Cruces where he had looked over cases with a front-line worker there. One client was a single mom with two kids under 6. She’d lost SNAP benefits because she had not submitted documents that apparently were already in the system. Then her family lost Medicaid benefits, even though they weren’t up for renewal, because of the decision on food stamps — something that violates federal rules.
Last week the Children Youth and Families Department settled a lawsuit over who qualifies for child-care support and how it sets the out-of-pocket cost for low-income families. For now, all families with incomes under 200% of the federal poverty level ($51,500 for a family of four) can apply for subsidies that make child care more affordable while parents work or go to school. And it forces CYFD to post rules on their website and in all Early Childhood offices that help parents understand if they are eligible, what their co-pays might be and their right to appeal. But some questions remain unanswered — like whether the state will keep the eligibility level at 200% and whether current funding will cover the need. The Legislature boosted child-care assistance by about 7% during the 2019 legislative session.
There was something poetic about Lynn Community Middle School’s dental clinic opening on Wednesday. That day the school hosted its monthly food pantry for neighborhood families. And it was the same day Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed into law House Bill 589, which sets up an initiative to take the community school model statewide. Every Wednesday, students at Lynn Middle School will be able to get preventive dental care right down the hall from their classrooms. The clinic is staffed by dental hygiene students from Doña Ana Community College. Those are just the kinds of things community schools are meant to do — bring social services to students so they can concentrate on learning, and become a resource for the surrounding community.
Las Cruces City Councilor Kasandra Gandara is bringing together behavioral health, education, community organizing, child wellbeing and health groups in an effort to gather data on Adverse Childhood Experiences and use that information to combat childhood trauma. Tackling childhood trauma in a data-driven, community-based fashion went from an idea to an institute within the space of a year. Las Cruces City Councilor Kasandra Gandara knew from her years as a social worker at the Children Youth and Families Department that even front line workers in child protective services, faced with the hardest cases of abuse and neglect, were not aware of or trained in the theory of Adverse Childhood Experiences and the lifelong effects they have on health and learning. So when she read the book, “Anna, Age Eight: The Data-driven Prevention of Childhood Trauma and Maltreatment,” written by Katherine Ortega Courtney and Dominic Cappello, from research done at CYFD, she embarked on a mission to use data to prevent the heart-breaking instances of abuse she witnessed first-hand in Las Cruces and Dona Ana County. That project has grown swiftly.
Some children’s advocates are in an unusual position. After years of talk about state lawmakers taking a timid approach to early childhood education and child well-being, they say there were big wins from the just concluded legislative session. The biggest they cite is approval of a new Cabinet-level Early Childhood Education and Care Department. But when it comes to the incremental funding approach the state continues to take for programs serving children under 5, the assessment was mixed. Amber Wallin, deputy director at New Mexico Voices for Children.
Lawmakers want to pump hundreds of millions more into public education this year, but advocates and some lawmakers say too little is going to early childhood programs that serve children under the age of five, and continue to argue the state needs to tap New Mexico’s permanent land grant fund. Over the past decade, how much to increase the state’s investment in such early childhood programs has aroused deep passions among advocates and lawmakers. Nothing has changed in 2019. According to a legislative analysis, the Legislature is proposing to spend $125 million more for early childhood programs for the year that starts July 1, but most of that is made up of a $90 million increase to K5 Plus, a program for children aged 5 and over. The Legislative Finance Committee describes New Mexico’s early childhood care and education as running from before a baby is born to when he or she reaches 8 years of age.
Celina Corral, right, with the Empowerment Congress , teaches a class on cultural diversity at Lynn Middle School, Wednesday on Dec. 5, 2018. The Empowerment Congress is one of Lynn’s community partners. A bill that would put New Mexico children’s heritage and culture at the center of education is racing to the finish line along with the 2019 legislative session. Co-sponsored by Rep. Tomas Salazar, HB 159 would set up a parallel structure in the Public Education Department to support the Bilingual Multicultural Education, Indian Education and Hispanic Education acts.
The House and Senate on Tuesday both overwhelmingly passed multimillion dollar education bills that are in large part an answer to the Yazzie Martinez funding lawsuit that found New Mexico was shortchanging at-risk students in violation of the state Constitution. The nearly identical bills, which will now have to be reconciled in a committee from both chambers, put about $337 million toward raises for teachers and other educators, extend the school year by 25 days for up to 91,000 elementary school students and more than double dollars dedicated to those at-risk students: low-income, English language learners and Native American students. “This bill is a once in a lifetime game-changer for all the students across the state. While many components of House Bill 5 address the requirements of the recent lawsuit, there are multiple dimensions that will have far reaching impact over decades to come,” House Floor Leader Sheryl Williams Stapleton, a co-sponsor of the bill, exhorted forcefully as she called for a vote. “For example, by doubling the at-risk funding factor, schools will make important decisions that will fit their students to help them be successful.”
The bill passed that chamber successfully by 53-14.
A child plays with beads in a New Mexico PreK classroom. A proposal for an Early Childhood Education and Care Department would bring together all children’s program for children ages 0 to 5 into the department, including New Mexico PreK administered both the Public Education Department and the Children Youth and Families Department. (Xchelzin Pena/New Mexico In Depth)
It was a powerhouse show of support last week for a plan to create an Early Childhood Education and Care Department. “Any other Cabinet secretaries here?,” Sen. Jeff Steinborn, D-Las Cruces, asked during public comment Feb. 13 on Senate Bill 22, which would create a department focused on providing education and services for children from birth to age 5.