1,000 kids tell New Mexico to fund early education

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Coming together to urge New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez and state legislators to support universal, high-quality early childhood education and care, 1,000 toddlers were joined on Feb. 10 by a unique partnership of parents, early educators, home visitors and child care center owners—as well as AFT Executive Vice President Mary Cathryn Ricker—for a march and a series of actions at the Santa Fe Roundhouse.

Mary Cathryn Ricker with kids at New Mexico marchThe message was simple: There is no excuse for New Mexico's ranking as one of the worst states in child well-being (the Annie E. Casey Foundation's annual Kids Count report has ranked the state either last or next-to-last in child well-being for the past three years). With a $15 billion Land Grant Permanent Fund, which supports a portion of the state's education budget for students from kindergarten to college, there is enough funding not only to expand high-quality early childhood education and care to every child in the state—while ensuring that early educators are paid a living wage (the current average wage is $8.88 per hour)—but also to fund high-quality public K-12 education and beyond.

"When it comes to our children's future, we must give every child a strong start," said Ricker (pictured above). "We know that high-quality early childhood education and care levels the playing field for all kids. We also know that it's a solid economic investment: Every dollar we invest in high-quality early childhood programs saves us up to eight dollars in the future. Today, we are taking a stand. No more excuses. Let's give every child in New Mexico the same opportunities to thrive and succeed."

Kids at New Mexico marchParticipants in the1,000 Kid March came from early learning centers from across the state. There also were representatives from the Invest in Kids Now! coalition, approximately 40 organizations fighting for early learning funding from the permanent fund, as well as from the PEOPLE for the Kids coalition, a unique partnership that brings together three key stakeholders—educators, parents and center owners, who are represented by New Mexico Early Educators United, the Ole Working Parents Association and the Quality Early Learning Association.

Said Carmella Salinas, president of the PEOPLE for the Kids coalition and New Mexico Early Educators United: "Today, we come together as one unified force—parents, educators, center owners and community members, people who care about the future for our kids—to stand up and say 'enough is enough.' It is time to give our kids what we know they need to thrive and succeed—high-quality early childhood education and care."

Estefania Valencia, a 13-year-old student at Washington Middle School in Albuquerque, who is part of the Partnership for Community Action, also took part. "I realize the great difference it makes when we are prepared ahead of time," she said. "It saddens me to know that not all children have the same opportunity—that we don't all start school with the same preparation. We children are the future, and we need support from the state. We want to grow into adults who are intelligent, independent and strong-minded. I ask our legislators to invest in all New Mexico's children by investing in early childhood programs."

Marchers at New Mexico 1,000 kids rallyIn addition, the 1,000 Kid March included home visitors and families with CHI St. Joseph's Children, a program that provides prenatal support and education and then helps families through the crucial first years of their children's lives; members of the Partnership for Community Action, a local nonprofit organization that helps to develop strong community leaders and advocates; and several state legislators with the Early Childhood Education and Care Caucus.

Said Soledad Rivera Escarcega, a case manager with CHI St. Joseph's Children: "I am passionate about this program and honored to work here at CHI St. Joseph's Children because I get to walk into my families' homes and make a difference now. I love knowing that I am empowering my families with knowledge—to meet with my mothers-to-be and reassure them that they don't have to be afraid to ask questions and advocate for themselves. To see families interact with their babies and see babies' developmental skills improve and develop from week to week is amazing. Let's give all New Mexicans the chance to experience the positive outcome of home visiting."

[AFT press release]