What We Know
85% of the human brain develops in the first five years of life. That’s a fact that cannot be ignored. Fifty years ago, we did not know that 85% of the brain develops before the fifth year of life. But now we do. Thirty years ago we had no evidence that the care we provide for our youngest children would substantially influence their success, or failure later in life. But now we do. Twenty years ago we did not know the economic burden that every New Mexico taxpayer would bear as a result of inadequate preparation of more than a third of New Mexico’s pre-school age children. But now we do. The New Mexico Early Childhood Development Partnership was established to spread that word, inform the public and urge legislators and leaders, in both public and private sectors to make a commitment to children of today and those in the years to come.
It’s tempting to reduce funding for ECD because of economic challenges. Our education system is in dire need of continued reform. We must start with adequate preparation of children be- fore entering school. Expansion of programs is desirable and needed, but maintaining current investment must be considered the minimum.
In more prosperous times, thinking about, acting on, and committing to the funding and support of early childhood development programs should have been a priority. Indeed, some very effective programs such as Pre K were enacted. Unfortunately, under current funding, only 15% of our state’s children and parents are served, despite overwhelming evidence that proves its value and impressive return on investment. Even in today’s belt-tightening times, it is imperative to fund comprehensive, inclusive, ECD programs so we don’t short change our children. Top economists agree that investment in children in the early years is amongst the best investments we can make in our communities and in our country. Human capital is the currency of tomorrow and we must invest now.
We either pay now or pay (much more) later. Investment in ECD pays big returns. It is estimated that $6.17 is returned to society for every dollar spent on PreK alone. That’s over $15,000 per child. Savings on crime and welfare costs, and expansion of personal earnings.
If we don’t invest in our youngest New Mexicans now, we will continue to pay a big price. Instead of financing PreK, parent support and home visitation programs, we will pour money into prisons and welfare programs. Instead of helping to build our state’s economic future, we will expand poverty and create future drains on an already stressed criminal justice system. Instead of building the workforce of the future that propels our state, we will guarantee our place at the bottom of the productivity heap. The state’s dropout rate is amongst the worst in the nation. With a 61% graduation rate it is no wonder that we continue to suffer economically. An ill prepared child entering Kindergarten today will fall be- hind quickly, beginning on a predictable path to failure. Invest now or pay later. The choice is clear.
Without adequate funding for early childhood programs, schools will continue to be burdened by unprepared children who are destined to fol- low a path of failure. The good news: children who are school-ready, will get better math, literacy and vocabulary scores.
If economics isn’t enough reason to support a robust, Early Childhood Development program, then equality, fairness and social justice is. Many five year olds will enter Kindergarten with a probability of failure, due to harmful prenatal practices, substandard parenting skills, nutritional, health and other environmental inadequacies already handicap children. A five year old, insufficiently prepared will likely fall behind quickly. A continuum of poor performance is likely to follow and failure to reach appropriate reading levels or achieve grade appropriate math and literacy scores will ensure academic and social decline. This is not the fault of the child, and it is preventable. We must do everything possible to give every child in New Mexico an equal chance to succeed and flourish.