Child statistics released in New Mexico

ALBUQUERQUE – A New Mexico children’s advocacy group on Tuesday presented the latest troubling statistics on child poverty, teen birth rates and math and reading proficiency during the first day of the New Mexico’s legislative session, hoping to spur action by lawmakers.

Officials with New Mexico Voices for Children and others gathered at the state Capitol to release the annual New Mexico Kids Count report.

It shows 42 percent of New Mexico children now live in single-parent households, and the state ranks last when it comes to the reading proficiency of fourth-graders. Overall, New Mexico ranks 49th in child well-being behind Mississippi.

The indicators included in the report serve as measures for the state’s future economic, education and health successes, said Veronica Garcia, the group’s executive director.

“This year’s prognosis sends a clear message that trends are going the wrong way, and they are not going to turn around by themselves,” she said.

Garcia said the state’s early-childhood education programs are only reaching a tiny percentage of children, and less than 2 percent of the state’s budget goes toward funding these programs.

New Mexico Voices for Children is advocating for a constitutional amendment that would allow for tapping one of the state’s permanent funds for money specifically for early-childhood education.

Rep. Rick Miera, an Albuquerque Democrat who chairs the House Education Committee, said focusing on young children and their families is going to be the only significant way New Mexico can turn around the statistics.

“We’ve got to start early,” he said, adding that Gov. Susana Martinez’s support for education and the Legislature’s new members could determine the success of the proposal this year.

Garcia suggested one place that policy makers can start is by focusing on reforms that would boost reading proficiency and graduation rates while ensuring fewer children are plagued by substance-abuse problems.

New Mexico ranks 48th among the states in the proportion of teens who abuse alcohol and drugs. Data from the state Department of Health and the Youth Risk and Resiliency Survey show 1-in-4 high school students uses illicit drugs or engages in binge drinking.