ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — In the new year, New Mexico lawmakers will have to decide whether to put more money into a program that provides child care for low-income families or whether the funds would be better spent elsewhere.
The Albuquerque Journal reports that Monique Jacobson, secretary of the state Children, Youth and Families Department, is asking the Legislature to approve an extra $25 million next year for child care assistance. That’s a 16 percent increase, to about $134 million a year.
Lawmakers will meet in a 30-day session starting Jan. 16 to craft a budget to send to Gov. Susana Martinez. The state is expected to have nearly $6.3 billion to spend on basic operations next year, or $199 million more than current spending levels.
The debate comes as New Mexico ramps up spending on a variety of early childhood programs and evaluates their effectiveness.
Lawmakers have heard conflicting reports this year on child care assistance — the state program that provides a subsidy to low-income families so they can send their children to day care while the parents work or attend school.
Nonpartisan analysts for the Legislative Finance Committee reported in August that child care assistance hasn’t shown evidence of boosting academic achievement, though they acknowledged it has other benefits for working families. They were much more positive about pre-kindergarten as a tool to close the achievement gap among students of different ethnic and demographic groups.
Jacobson said children in the program are far less likely to be the victims of repeat maltreatment — two substantiated allegations of abuse or neglect within six months — than the general population.
She said it has the added benefit of encouraging parents to work or attend school — something that can make a lasting difference for adults and children alike.
Jacobson said the $25 million boost is necessary just to keep up with enrollment trends and avoid cuts.
Information from: Albuquerque Journal, http://www.abqjournal.com