Editorial, Taos News
June 23, 2016

It’s not so much spin as it is desperation.

And it’s understandable, as New Mexicans become tired and desensitized to the same old barrage of lists that rank the state at or near the bottom in this category or that.

Who are the stakeholders? Stakeholders tend to brace themselves this time of year, as New Mexico Voices for Children releases the “Kids Count Data Book” — an analysis of child well-being — by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

New Mexico consistently dukes it out with Mississippi for the low ranking on many lists, and child well-being is no different. The Land of Enchantment retained its rank of No. 49 out of the 50 states in this year’s report. Mississippi was No. 50.

It’s the third year in a row that New Mexico has been No. 49. Here’s the bright spot. The state showed progress in some indicators of child well-being — including in health, where it climbed four positions from last year to No. 44.

“However, some of our success is overshadowed by the fact that other states are seeing more significant improvement,” said Veronica C. García, the executive director of New Mexico Voices for Children. “Once again, New Mexico is falling behind.”

Part of the improvement in the health category was due to New Mexico’s expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.

The reports ranks the states on 16 indicators under four domains of child well-being — economic, education, health and family and community. Examples of indicators are percentage of children in poverty, fourth-grade reading proficiency, percentages of children without health insurance and teen birth rates.

New Mexico fell to No. 50 in the education domain. (The past four years, we were ranked No. 49.) New Mexico also fell to No. 50 in child poverty.

Garcia said the single most significant factor impacting children is the state’s high child poverty rate. She said child poverty is a microcosm of a “larger, systematic problem that drags down everyone’s quality of life.”

Enter the use of this report for partisan bickering among New Mexico’s politicians.

After all, Gov. Susana Martinez is well into her second term in office. And she has endured harsh criticism for her education reforms, or lack thereof. The expansion of Medicaid is cited by some as a point in her favor.

The Martinez administration also continues to hammer what she sees as Senate Democrats stifling her reforms, including the “failed practice of social promotion.” (Passing a child to the next grade when they’re not ready.)

Martinez points to funding for pre-K that she says has tripled and enrollment that has doubled.

It’s clearly not enough. And it has implications for everyone in New Mexico.

When a company, large or small, and site selectors look at all the amenities New Mexico has to offer — low cost of living, unparalleled natural beauty and climate — if the perception is that it’s not a good place to raise a child or that it’s perpetually mired in poverty, the state is crossed off the list.

It’s part of a seemingly never-ending cycle.

Martinez and the Legislature should consider other solutions. Those include the state using part of its revenues from the multibillion-dollar state trust land endowment to fund early childhood education. That kind of funding is considered a game changer by many. It can raise achievement levels, lower dropout rates and strengthen the state’s workforce, according to State Sen. Michael Padilla, D-Albuquerque. He and others say it can lower incarceration rates and rates of domestic violence, drunken driving and teen pregnancy.

There are other ideas. It’s time to take a hard look at the whole spectrum — so next year isn’t another battle for the bottom.

Copyright 2016, Taos News