Opinion Editorial

by Lt. Governor Howie Morales – October 1, 2019

Progress on improving public education in New Mexico is off to a strong start thanks to the collaborative work of Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham and the Democratic-led Legislature.

The Governor’s bold ‘Education Moonshot’ delivered almost $500 million more in recurring funds for K through 12 classrooms, including $113 million targeted to at-risk students living in poverty, or speaking English as a second language. A healthy 6 percent across-the-board pay raise for educators should help ease the pressure of a teacher shortage in our schools that worsened unchecked through the Martinez years. We also created a new cabinet-level department to focus squarely on all aspects of early childhood education and childcare in the state, which has been lagging. The task for state policy makers is to allow these policies to take root, but also to consider the needs of children when they are not in school.

Now is the right time to put more support and investment into afterschool learning, also known as Out-of-School Time informal education. There is ample and compelling evidence that it could help close the academic achievement gaps of our youngest learners. If New Mexico is going to transform our economy to support good jobs in science, technology, engineering and math in the future, we need well-educated adults. Firing the imagination of children before they are teenagers will be critical. Evidence shows that what happens outside of the classroom can be equally as important as what happens inside.

That is why I am partnering with the New Mexico Out-of-School Time Network to hold The Lieutenant Governor’s Leadership Conference on Afterschool Learning on October 22nd in Albuquerque. We’ll bring together practitioners, educators, experts and advocates, legislators, business leaders, parents and students from across the state to find solutions and outline a path forward.

As a community, New Mexico would benefit by making a commitment to hard-working families that struggle to find a safe place for their children while they are at their jobs. Across our state, many thousands of kids are alone and unsupervised – or engaging in risky behaviors – between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. while parents are still at work. Quality afterschool programs give parents peace of mind, providing a safe place for children to go when they are not in school, with supportive and structured educational activities under the careful eye of loving adults. They are frequently a lifeline for low-income parents’ continued employment.

Afterschool programs currently are offered in some of our public, private and charter schools, in faith-based centers and at local youth-focused centers like the Boys and Girls Clubs. Kids continue their learning at their own pace outside of the classroom, exploring interests that enrich children’s lives, from music, art and dance to sports, math, reading, theater and chess. They help children learn, grow, and reach their full potential. At some of our state’s burgeoning Community Schools, they can even get a hot meal before going home.

Afterschool programs get positive results. Research shows that children in afterschool programs attend school more often, get better grades, and are more likely to graduate. They are less likely to use drugs or alcohol. Afterschool also improve student’s homework completion, class participation and class behavior.

New Mexico needs more high-quality afterschool learning programs that keep children on track for high school, careers, and productive lives. A recent mapping project reveals that rural areas with high poverty and high juvenile justice referral rates are lacking afterschool programs, including Roswell, Alamogordo and Las Vegas.

The truth is that there are not nearly enough afterschool programs available across the state to meet the need of communities and families. We can’t expect help from Washington. The president’s 2020 budget called for eliminating all federal funding for local afterschool programs. The House of Representatives, thank goodness, rejected that proposal and instead passed an increase to allow 100,000 more children to access afterschool learning programs nationwide. But gridlock rules the day.

Policy makers at the state and local level must do everything possible to protect and increase funding for afterschool programs, which is an essential component for New Mexico’s children’s chance at a fair and equitable education, and a brighter future.