Legislative report touts prekindergarten benefits

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SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) – Prekindergarten programs deliver a greater return on the taxpayers’ investment than state subsidized child care, according to a legislative report.

New Mexico is spending far more on child care than prekindergarten. But the staff of the Legislative Finance Committee found that the benefits from prekindergarten outweigh the costs to taxpayers, while that’s not the case for child care provided through registered homes and some state licensed programs.

Prekindergarten provides services through public schools and other locations, targeting 4-year-olds in the year before they would attend kindergarten.

The programs costs about $2,900 for each student, but the report said the benefits to the children and to taxpayers exceed those costs. Those benefits include improved student achievement through the third grade. The report said prekindergarten also can lessen the need for special education services for children and reduce the number of students who need to be held back in the third grade because they’re struggling to read.

New Mexico will spend about $231 million on early childhood programs in the next budget year, which is nearly a 13 percent increase over current expenditures. About $98 million will go for child care assistance for potentially about 20,000 children up to age 13 who live in low-income families. The state expects to spend $37 million next year for prekindergarten to serve more than 10,000 children.

The state subsidizes child care for certain low-income families in which parents are working or attending school. A family of four with income of up to about $47,000 can qualify for the state’s child care assistance, according to the committee.

The costs of child care programs exceeded the benefits except for children enrolled in facilities that score high in the state’s 5-star rating system.

The report found that the benefits of some other early childhood programs exceed their costs, including certain home visiting programs that provide education and support services for pregnant women and needy families with young children.

Rep. Luciano “Lucky” Varela, a Santa Fe Democrat and committee chairman, said the report will help lawmakers establish spending priorities for early childhood programs. The committee plans to follow up on the report during the coming months and will try to work with agencies in Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration to make any needed changes in programs.

“We want some outcomes in there,” Varela said in an interview on Thursday. “Is it working or is it not, so we can make policy decisions to keep funding them or to eliminate them.”

The report, which was released last week, is part of a new effort by the committee to perform a cost-benefit analysis of programs to provide research-based evidence to help in policy making.

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