Still at the Bottom

Once again, New Mexico ranks 50th among states for child well-being

New Mexico once again ranked last in child well-being, according to an annual report released this morning by the Annie E Casey Foundation based on data from 2017, the most recent available.

Lawmakers pushed a slew of bills through during the 2019 Legislative session addressing education inequities, and the governor signed many of them. But those efforts will take a while to be felt on the ground, experts say.

This is the second year in a row, and the third time overall, that New Mexico ranked 50th in the nation in an overall score based on individual rankings in four categories.

New Mexico flat-lined at 50th in education, 49th in economic security and 48th in health—rankings that remain consistent with last year. In the family and community domain category, we hit the bottom of the barrel, sinking from 49th last year to 50th this year. The numbers are based on factors such as the percentage of kids living bellow the poverty line and of children who are uninsured, the teen pregnancy and death rates, drug and alcohol abuse and high school graduation rates.

It's not entirely unexpected news. Yet this year's legislative efforts may provide a reason to hope that we won't remain at the bottom forever.

"We made some real strides toward increasing our investments in children during the 2019 legislative session," Amber Wallin, deputy director for NM Voices for Children, writes in a news release. "However, it takes some time before improvements in public policy show up in measurable changes to child well-being. Our ranking is also dependent upon how well other states are doing, and most states made the kinds of investments during the recession that led to quicker, more robust recoveries than New Mexico did."

Sharon Kayne, a spokeswoman for NM Voices, tells SFR by phone that of the policies enacted this year, the one that will likely have greatest impact on overall child well-being was an increase in the state's Working Families Tax Credit, which benefits more than 200,000 children each year.

The state also funneled about $450 million into K-12 education this year in response to the  First Judicial District Court's final ruling in the Yazzie-Martinez v State of New Mexico, filed against the state in 2018. The plaintiffs argued successfully that the state failed to uphold students' constitutional rights to a sufficient education.

Yet Kayne questions whether the money spent on education this year is enough to fix a system that's been broken for years. "All this does is gets us up to the the same level of funding we had in education before 2008," she says.

There litigation also raised several important issues that the Legislature failed to address, says Kayne, including the needs for bilingual teachers and a culturally appropriate curriculum.

"Seventy percent [of New Mexico school children] are students of color, but they're still going to school in an Anglo curriculum," she says.

In addition, Kayne says a child tax deduction passed by the Legislature will only benefit families above the income threshold at which they owe money to the government. For the poorest families, a child tax credit would do more to address New Mexico's standing as second-highest in the nation for child poverty.

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