- Associated Press - Friday, April 18, 2014

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

Yet New Mexico is spending far more on child care than prekindergarten, the Legislative Finance Committee found.

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

Prekindergarten is provided through public schools and other locations, enrolling 4-year-olds a year before they would attend kindergarten.

The program costs about $2,900 for each student, with benefits that include improved 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 must 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 as old as 13 from low-income families. The services are provided through registered homes and some state licensed programs.

The state expects to spend $37 million next year for prekindergarten to serve more than 10,000 children.

The state also 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 such assistance, according to the committee.

The report said the costs of the child care programs exceed the benefits in many instances.

“Participation in child care showed little to no impact on test scores with the exception of 4-star rated programs,” according to the report.

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.


Follow Barry Massey on Twitter at https://twitter.com/bmassey

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