Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s administration passed a bill that will create a new educational department — the Early Childhood Education and Care Department. Listening to the administration speak about this is encouraging. The governor is thankfully focusing on the “achievement gap” as one of our state’s biggest issues. Achievement gaps typically occur when children from lower socioeconomic upbringings enter school at a disadvantage. In general, by the time children get to kindergarten, this gap already is insurmountable. Make no mistake, something has to be done at the early childhood level. They are saying the right things.
Unfortunately, we’ve heard administrations give us a version of this song and dance before. Cycle after cycle, administrations come in and tout education reform. Yet year after year, we sink further into a hole. One can argue that we shouldn’t be spending the money. That argument is for another op-ed. But it won’t change the fact that money will now be spent. We must make sure the money is spent properly.
One and a quarter million dollars of your tax dollars are going to setting up the department’s operations. After that, the state has more than doubled its budget for early childhood spending to more than $300 million. Saying the “state’s budget” is a bad way of putting it, though. This is your money for your children. Not only do we need to make sure this money is being spent well, we need to make sure it is being spent differently. A different approach for different times.
Here’s the rub, folks — this sci-fi future in which we live is leaving no kid immune from the achievement gap. The effects of prevalent screens in our homes has the same effect as children growing up in poverty (and in many cases worse effects). Add on top of this a sharp increase in depression, anxiety, attention deficits, etc. If you think we have problems now, just wait and see what happens if we don’t take this on properly.
Plenty of research exists on how to solve these issues. I’ve been an early childhood specialist for decades, and I see incredible things happen if people know what to do.
Lujan Grisham and company: Will you approach this paradigm shift with paradigm-shifting remedies? Will you house this department in a bureaucratic office building or make it a place for our children — a place where imaginations can thrive and families can learn?
Will you build a website with materials where very few people will go? Or will you creatively reach people through social media where they already are?
The New Mexico True campaign has been beautifully done to promote tourism in the state. Everyone has seen the great commercials and graphics splashed across the state. How about a little bit of this magic for our children?
What will you do with millions and an entire department? Anything short of a paradigm-shifting approach will be tossing our money into the gusty New Mexico winds. Will you do things as they’ve been done in the past or will you harness the good of our modern day technology? Either way, you know we’ll be watching.
Corey Walker is a speech-language pathologist and app developer from Albuquerque.