Does anyone pay attention to the back side of the ballot? This election year, flip it over! On November 8th, 2022, you have the opportunity to vote on a game-changing measure to increase funds annually for New Mexico childcare providers, early learning programs, and public schools. This opportunity is the result of a fight that took over a decade to reach you, New Mexico’s voters. Now you have the chance to make a ground-breaking decision for our kids and families that can make a real difference in how New Mexico approaches early childhood care and education. Don’t underestimate the enormity of this moment – a vote like this may not come again in your lifetime.

Parents and caregivers, can you relate to any of these things?

If any of these things sound familiar to you, you’re not alone. For decades, childcare and other early childhood programs in New Mexico have been underfunded, to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars. In recent years, New Mexico has made significant investments into early childhood. Most recently, the NM Department of Early Childhood Education and Care waived family copays for child care for the vast majority of NM families. Starting this month, any families that earn less than 400% of the federal poverty level (FPL) who sign up for state child care assistance will no longer have copays, making child care effectively cost-free for most families in NM.

If you want to see more changes like this in New Mexico, it is absolutely essential that voters pass this measure in November. Did you know that in Doña Ana County (DAC), the median wage for a child care worker is $19,140? For a full-time child care provider that comes out to $9.20/hour. By comparison, a fast food cook in DAC makes $22,380 (Source: NMSU Center for Community Analysis,  https://cca.nmsu.edu/snapshots.html).

These are poverty wages. Early childhood workers are absolutely essential to our economy, and it is long past time for us to stop subsidizing care on the backs of our child care providers, who invest their time, talents, skills, and care into our most precious and vital resource, our kids. The Department of Early Childhood Education and Care has a goal to pay child care providers $18/hour. That’s approximately $37,440/year, much more of a living wage. We can help make this happen!

This is the part where some of the naysayers will complain “We can’t afford that”, and that’s the great part about this measure- the funds would come out of our state’s Land Grant Permanent Fund, one of the largest in the country, currently valued at over $26 billion dollars. If the measure passes in November, 1.25% will come out of the fund every year to fund early childhood and public education. Between this fund and the recently created Early Childhood Trust Fund, New Mexico can finally start to gain some of the ground we lost by underfunding our early childhood system for decades.

Your taxes won’t change. Nothing about your income or what you pay into the system changes by voting yes for this measure. And yet, these funds will help enable what we’ve known New Mexico families have needed for years: affordable childcare, a fairly paid early childhood workforce, more child care providers across the state, and enough slots for Pre-K, early intervention, home visiting, and all of the early childhood services that are so critical to healthy development and school readiness.

All of that equals what is truly important for families, REAL choices about what is best for their children, not choices forced by poverty and limited options. Our children and families deserve no less.

This November, turn over the ballot and vote yes for kids! If you want to learn more, go to https://voteyesforkidsnm.com/.

Lori Martinez is the Executive Director of Ngage New Mexico, a nonprofit that spearheaded the SUCCESS Partnership, a prenatal-to-career education initiative serving Doña Ana County. Ngage is a proud supporter of the Vote Yes for Kids campaign.

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