NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – The state is now spending hundreds of millions of dollars to expand pre-k and early childhood services but challenges are quickly surfacing. Powerful state lawmakers just met to discuss the hurdles. Chief among them, finding enough quality teachers when there’s already a teacher shortage. Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham is banking on expanded pre-k giving public education a huge lift in the long run. With a huge new pot of money to spend, lawmakers want to make sure it goes to the right places.
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A recent report said the state needs to maximize its investments in early childhood. Hiring a wave of teachers is a top priority. “We want them to be well-credentialed,” said the state’s Early Childhood Education and Care Department Communications Director, Micah McCoy. “We want them to be diverse reflecting the communities they’re serving both culturally and linguistically.”
The report from state lawmakers in the influential Legislative Finance Committee said New Mexico already has a much harder time finding preschool teachers with college degrees in New Mexico than most other states. The governor’s administration is working on recruitment efforts like providing free college tuition for students going into early childhood education and giving on-the-job training for professional development. However, one of the biggest challenges comes down to pay.
“Even though it’s like a really fun and rewarding profession, if people can’t afford to take care of their own families on their salary then it’s not going to attract the really talented educators we want and need in those classrooms,” said McCoy. The state’s new ECECD said pre-k educators get paid $10 an hour on average. The department wants to boost that. There are 11,045 New Mexico kids in pre-k right now but the state wants to grow that number quickly, which means more preschools, more teachers and more oversight over the next few years.
LFC’s report warns about expanding too quickly, making sure the quality’s there first. “We do site visits on a regular basis to make sure the environments are really conducive to learning and growth of little ones and we have a tiered quality system that care centers can achieve,” said McCoy. “It’s a stars-based system with one to five stars with five stars being the highest quality and there’s a range of indicators that we use to measure that.”
The state said there are plans for 20 private preschools in Albuquerque alone. They’ll get state and federal funding and they all need to hire teachers. The governor has made it known she wants free pre-k for every New Mexican who wants it. While the state said we’re getting closer to meeting that goal, they don’t have a timeline for when that will happen.
The ECECD will host a job fair on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. for those 20 preschools who are hiring in Albuquerque. For more information, visit nmececd.org/2021/08/05/early-childhood-job-fairs.