By Angela Garcia, owner of The Toy Box, Las Cruces, NM
Creating universal PreK for all New Mexico children is on objective of the legislature this year. Many legislators and the governor ran on this issue and want to see it become reality. We support universal PreK, and we want everyone to know that. But we are also saying to the governor and legislators, please don’t close down all child care centers in the state as an unintended consequence.
Universal PreK is an amazing goal and we urge everyone to support that goal. The problem is that the legislature is thinking about putting all PreK programs in the state’s Public Education Department. That would have the effect of closing most child care centers in our state.
The reason is that Senator Soules’s bill, SB 298, would take all four-year-olds out of existing PreK programs in childcare centers. We can’t afford to lose so many students. This would be devastating to childcare centers around the state, potentially ending childcare as we know it.
Simply put, if they put all four-year-old PreK programs through PED, we all lose. If childcare centers lose 4-year-old PreK to PED, it will not be financially viable for childcare facilities to stay open. We will all, and I mean all, suffer extreme financial hardship leading to closure.
What does that mean? Well, it means that there will be no childcare centers for infants, toddlers and all age children who attend our facilities. Working parents will have to find other sources for childcare, because there will be no childcare centers left to service their children. It also means that there will not be “wrap-around services,” or services before and after school, for the four-year-olds and school age children.
In short, our children, and our working families, will be much worse off.
There is a solution, however, that achieves PreK for all children and actually saves childcare centers and provides our four-year-olds with PreK. A competing bill, SB 22, would allow child care centers to continue to serve four-year-olds by giving state funds to both PED and CYFD programs. The bill continues to split the money so that child care centers can run PreK through the CYFD program.
In addition, think of all the money the state will save by not building all those new classrooms. If all kids have to go to PED, there will be tens of millions of dollars in projects to bring the PED centers up to code for these young children, and to provide the needed capacity in our schools. Why not save the money? Childcare centers are ready and will to provide expansion.
And lastly, why throw all our childcare center employees out of work? These are some of our state’s finest workers, who care for our children every day. Why should we lose these incredible assets?
Why should we shut down our childcare centers when the solution is right in front of us? There is no reason why PED has to take on all of the children in the state for PreK. These childcare centers can continue to do a great job providing early childhood education as they do now, and our state will all be better off.
So, we say to the legislature: please don’t force all PreK kids into the PED program. Don’t shut down all childcare centers in the state and cause a crisis. Allow us to continue to run our childcare centers and provide excellent care for our children, support for our families, and PreK services to our communities.
Angela Garcia is the owner and financial administrator of The Toy Box in Las Cruces. The Toy Box has been involved with early childhood development for over 17 years.