The year’s legislative session was full of promise and excitement thanks to the great surplus of state funding available.
One of the most exciting bills for early childhood passed on March 14, when Governor Lujan Grisham signed Senate Bill 22 (SB22) into law with her granddaughter on her lap. The bill created the new Early Childhood Education & Care Department effectively consolidating all early childhood services into one department.
The next year is dedicated to planning and organizing, which means bringing into alignment early childhood programing from the Children Youth and Families Department, Public Education Department and the Department of Health. The new department is also tasked with coordinating Medicaid-financed home visiting services with the Human Services Department.
Thanks to the passage of this bill, we will see increased coordination, streamlined services for families and hopefully increases in funding for early childhood professionals across home visiting, preschool, pre-K and early intervention. While this is reason to celebrate, there must be continued efforts to increase and improve the workforce for the system across all programs. The workforce is spread thin and many areas across our state are experiencing a huge shortage.
The state should look to higher education as a partner, ready and willing, to produce the next early educators. In order for this to succeed, a partnership needs to be developed between what the state needs and flexibility for how higher education can help, including innovative efforts. This could include a statewide professional recruitment campaign for the workforce and alignment of training that leads to credentialing.
The key to increasing the workforce is also addressing the low wages early childhood professionals earn. Increasing wages can be done quickly through a few key areas:
- Include language in the RFP process for pre-K / early pre-K grants with a minimum salary requirement based on credentials
- Include minimum salary requirements for programs that accept state subsidies
- Include additional funding for the STAR licensing system for minimum salary requirements
- Increased reimbursement rates for pre-K / early pre-K to support higher wages.
Overall, compensation for home visiting reimbursements, pre-K / early pre-K reimbursements per child, and the subsidy will have to increase to compensate the early childhood workforce. A study is certainly needed to overhaul the reimbursement and compensation systems currently in place.
The governor has a couple of weeks to sign the budget and many bills, including the “historic budget”. Look for an update in the next blog on what was enacted into law and what changes are in store for our state.
Kudos to Senator Michael Padilla and Representative Linda Trujillo who carried the legislation, and the supporters from the New Mexico Early Childhood Development Partnership who championed the bill. Thank you to Governor Lujan Grisham and Lieutenant Governor Morales for your leadership. I applaud everyone’s efforts to establish a new department and look forward to the future of early childhood education!