by the Sun-News Editorial Board, Las Cruces Sun-News
June 30, 2018
We can no longer refer to the annual childhood well-being rankings as a “wake-up call” for the state. The same alarm goes off every summer, and each time it does New Mexico rolls over and hits the “snooze” button.
This year, after four years of being ranked next to last in the annual Kids Count report, New Mexico has dropped to the very bottom of the list. Public officials in Louisiana are thanking God for us.
The report, put out by the Annie E. Casey Foundation and its network of state partners, ranks states in 16 measures of child well-being. There are four main categories: economic well-being; education; health; and family and community. New Mexico ranked last in education, and did not rank higher than 48th in any category.
Perhaps most discouraging is that we are not seeing any improvement from one year to the next. Instead, there was a decline in eight of the 16 categories, no change in two categories and improvement in just six.
New Mexico’s sluggish economy continues to be a primary factor in the low ranking. More children this year were living below the federal poverty level, had parents who lacked secure employment and live in households with high housing cost burdens than last year.
The state showed its most improvement in education, with better high school graduation rates and test scores ticking up in fourth-grade reading, but we are still well behind the rest of the nation.
In the health category, we saw declines in three of the four areas, with more low-birth-weight babies, more children without health insurance and higher rates of drug and alcohol use. The decline in health insurance rates will likely continue as long as the issue of health care remains unresolved in Congress.
There was some good news in the final category, family and community, with a decline in the teen birth rate and the number of children living in high-poverty areas. But once again, other states are doing much better in those areas.
There wasn’t a single category where New Mexico was above the national average.
Officials with New Mexico Voices for Children, which partners on the survey, point to a decline in state funding as the cause for many of these problems. Deputy Director Amber Wallin said the state has passed 37 tax cuts since 2008; has reduced per-pupil funding for schools and money for higher education; and has cut back on the number of school-based health centers.
Gov. Susana Martinez has made opposition to tax hikes the primary feature of her eight years in office, and funding for many children’s programs has been reduced to compensate for lower revenue.
But, New Mexico’s dismal ranking in this annual survey predates the current governor.
Spending for programs to alleviate childhood poverty may have gone down under Martinez. But, New Mexico was bouncing along the bottom each year when Bill Richardson was governor and spending was greater. Spending alone wasn’t enough. We need a coherent strategy.
Elections this year will bring us a new governor and new members of the Legislature in the House. We urge voters to keep these unacceptable rankings in mind this election season as they listen to the debates, read the candidates’ proposals and consider their choices. And, we urge candidates to come to the process with real proposals for change.
Copyright 2018, Las Cruces Sun-News (https://www.lcsun-news.com/story/opinion/editorial/2018/06/30/keep-nm-kids-mind-when-you-vote-year/748575002/)