The new regulations, which are scheduled to go into effect July 15, will limit state recognition of some national accreditation bodies for early education centers and start FOCUS, a New Mexico early childhood education accreditation program which the state's Childhood, Youth and Families Department maintains is optional.
But Steve Hendrix, who directs CYFD's Early Childhood Services Division, began the public hearing by stating that the centers that comply with the new accreditation will get more money from the state than they get today.
"It's approximately $18.6 million above and beyond what we're spending today," Hendrix said.
Hendrix said that current early childhood centers which CYFD has ranked with five stars—the highest level of certification for early childhood centers from from the state—will be limited to choosing between two accreditation programs: FOCUS and the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC).
CYFD says the regulations in the two accreditation programs ensure higher-quality early childhood education programs. But advocates argue that the standards are unrealistic and costly.
FOCUS, for one, designates maximum class sizes. For infants between 0-12 months old, the standards will allow no more than six in a classroom. For infants aged between 12-24 months, those class sizes will be limited to eight kids.
Joan Baker, an advocate with Quality Early Learning Association, says those regulations would put a burden on already cash-strapped preschools that rely on state subsidies.
"You're cutting class sizes in half," she says. "That is the primary problem."
Jeri Key, who works at Roswell's Generations of Learning, testified that the NAEYC regulations that require teachers at preschools to have college degrees will cause many to shut their doors. On the ground training with the kids is more valuable, Key argued.
"It is ridiculous to think that we would have to have them have a bachelor's degree, because having a bachelors degree does not necessarily mean that you are a good teacher," Key said. "We just hired a teacher with a master's degree, and she is going to go in our toddler class and we are having to totally retrain her."
She added that New Mexico, which ranks last in the nation in childhood welfare, was being "arrogant" by dumping its recognition of other nationally recognized accreditation programs in the new CYFD requirements. Even though the department says the accreditation is optional, in order to gain access to full state subsidies, centers must comply with the rules.
Hendrix also stressed that childhood centers accredited by programs that will soon be no longer recognized by CYFD won't lose their current state subsidies until 2018.
"You will continue to be paid the same rate you are paid," he said. "Nothing will change."
But Matthew Henderson, executive director of the Organizers in the Land of Enchantment advocacy group, says that characterization is disingenuous because many preschools are underfunded with resources under current payments and the centers certified under the state's new FOCUS accreditation program will get more money from the state.
For more on the state of New Mexico's early childhood education, read SFR's report from last month.