Part Three: Moving Towards Universal Access

By Aaron Loewenberg, New America
May 15, 2024

It’s not unusual to hear advocates call for a “right to child care” for young children or a “right to pre-K” for all three- and four-year-olds. With the defeat of Build Back Better, much of the energy behind establishing such a right has now shifted to individual states. This four-part blog series, published monthly, focuses on how states are using different strategies in an effort to establish a right to early education for young children. Part One introduced the series and provided historical context for the push to establish a right to early education. Part Two examined how states, such as Florida and New Jersey, have used their constitutions to extend early education access to more children. Part Three will highlight states, such as New Mexico and California, who have recently made substantial state investments to provide free early education for most, if not all, young children. Finally, Part Four will wrap up the series and highlight lessons learned from different states.

On a late April afternoon in 2022, New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham gave an important speech at East Gate Kids Learning Center in Albuquerque. Speaking before a crowd that included a large group of preschoolers sitting restlessly at the foot of the stage, Lujan Grisham announced the expansion of free child care for families earning up to 400 percent of the federal poverty level (FPL) starting in May. The policy change, originally intended to last for just over a year, made New Mexico the first state in the nation to offer no-cost child care over such a broad income range. “It’s free, no more co-pays, no more waiting,” said Lujan Grisham. “This is the road to a universal child-care system.”

That April announcement was the culmination of years of work on the part of the state’s early learning advocates and marked the furthest step any state has taken towards embracing universal access to early education. During a 2018 election campaign that focused on extending access to early education, Lujan Grisham vowed to tap the Land Grant Permanent Fund, a state land endowment estimated to be worth $17 billion, to put over $285 million into early education over five years.

Read more at New America