Kids Count Data Book Focuses on Racial Equity

New Mexico Voices for Children’s annual report shows continued racial disparities in childhood well-being

Cover Story Voices for Children wants lawmakers to adopt child and family well-being policies, including fully funding early childhood education programs and supporting teachers, classrooms and schools. (Anson Stevens-Bollen)

Most education and economic conditions improved for New Mexico’s estimated 455,475 children last year, but rankings still lag behind national averages, according to the latest New Mexico Kids Count Data Book released by New Mexico Voices for Children on Jan. 22.

Emily Wildau, the organization’s senior research and policy analyst, said in a news conference that despite gains, racial inequity persists, and that’s why Voices for Children will focus on increasing equity during the current legislative session.

“Over 77% of New Mexico’s children are children of color, and 30% are of two or more races,” Wildau said. “It’s critical that we understand how even in our long-term improvements, children in families of color often continue to experience worse outcomes as a result of policy choices throughout the history of our nation and our state. Considering the racial equity impact of all policies moving forward will be the only way to begin closing those gaps.”

The state’s child poverty rate, for example, slowly declined between 2016 and 2021, from 30% to 24%. The rate and number of New Mexico children living in poverty stayed the same from 2021 to 2022. However, child poverty rates for Black and Native American children remained higher at 29% and 39%, respectively. The national average is 16%.

Wildau says the data does not reflect newer measures in New Mexico to decrease childhood poverty and narrow gaps caused by race and ethnicity—such as the Child Tax Credit that starting this year will provide low-income families up to $600 per child.

She also notes the state has set the stage to improve education outcomes in the future through expansion of free childcare; higher education affordability and access; funding for early childhood and K-12 education and pay increases for educators.

According to this year’s data book, which contains data collected largely in 2022 and includes statistics from the state Public Education Department, 79% of New Mexico’s children are not proficient in reading by the fourth grade (compared to 68% nationally). More than 87% of eighth-grade New Mexico students (74% nationally) rank below proficient in math. Both subjects at these grade levels, the report says, are critical to graduation rates—another area the state struggles with.

The state’s rate of students who do not graduate high school within four years (23%) is much higher than the national average of 14%. However, Wildau says the state has improved greatly in this area since the 2013-2014 school year’s rate of 32%. The state issued a new report on that topic Jan. 15.

“This rate has decreased by 10 percentage points over the past decade, so although 23% of our students still are not graduating on time, more New Mexico high school students are completing school on time than ever before,” Wildau says.

Just over three-quarters (76%) of New Mexico’s high school students graduate within four years, but economically disadvantaged, disabled, Native American and Black students continue to have lower rates ranging from 67% to 72%.

Other areas where New Mexico struggles to match national rates include household income, where New Mexico’s median is $54,020 compared to a national average of $69,021; food insecurity, where 19% of children in the state are food insecure compared to 13% nationally; slightly higher rates of asthmatic children compared to to US average (9% and 7%); and child and teen death rates climbing up to 43 per 100,000 children and teens in 2021 from 34 per 100,000 in 2011.

The state slightly outperformed national averages in health insurance: About 4% of children are uninsured in New Mexico, compared to a 5% national average. Advocates say one reason is the state’s high number of children enrolled in Medicaid (332,732 in 2023).

Wildau says Voices for Children wants lawmakers to adopt a number of child and family well-being policies that increase the child tax credit for families with young children; continue fully funding early childhood education programs; and support teachers, classrooms and schools through “programs that are community-informed and matter most for children of color.”

With regards to improving education through policy, Wildau expressed support for House Bill 171, which changes graduation requirements for students; and Senate Bill 67, which creates a career and technical education development program for public schools.

“There are several policies that are intended to really engage students more, and meet them more where they are, and also provide them with more opportunities and pathways through high school, so that it’s more relevant to students as far as what they need to have when they get out of school,” Wildau says.

When it comes to addressing racial equity, Wildau says Voices for Children will support House BIll 134, a bill asking for $100 million to be appropriated to create a Tribal Education Trust Fund supporting Native American students and tribally-run schools.

“One of the big policies that we’re excited about this year is particularly focused on Native American students and helping them to graduate, and that’s related to really making sure there is dedicated funding to support our Native students,” Wildau said. “We’re going to be really supportive of that.”

Other policy solutions Voices for Children recommends for the state include:

• Increasing reading and math coaches in schools

• Ensuring smaller class sizes

• Increasing K–12 per-pupil funding to provide resources for learning needs, mitigate the problems associated with poverty, and help schools decrease overcrowding in classrooms

• Expanding quality before- and after-school mentorship and tutoring programs

• Further increasing compensation for teachers, principals, and support staff; postsecondary scholarships for educator training programs; funding for educator residencies; and residencies for principals.

• Providing more school counselors

• Identifying students in ninth grade who require additional learning time and provide free summer school, after-school, and online learning opportunities

• Revising zero-tolerance policies and penalties to keep more students in school

• Eliminating suspensions and expulsions for students in early education through second grade

• Ensuring funding support for and expand the number of community schools; and ensure adequate transportation

• Funding alternative discipline practices like restorative justice and support implementation with adequate training and resources

• Creating paths for LGBTQ+ students and faculty in schools to feel welcome and fully supported

• Establishing inclusive anti-bullying policies and procedures at schools and in districts

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