By Lt. Gov. Howie Morales & May Sagbakken, executive director of New Mexico Out-of-School Time Network

April 26th, 2023

The New Mexico Legislature and Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham delivered major victories for children and families during its 2023 meeting. We are reversing trends that pushed New Mexico towards the bottom of key national rankings for decades, and we have more work to do.

New tax measures add more than 200,000 modest- and low-income families who now will be able to claim a larger credit of up to $600 per child, benefiting 350,000 children.  The Governor’s priority of ensuring all students in our public schools be offered a healthy breakfast and lunch free of charge will lessen child food insecurity.  Rebates to taxpayers of $500 for single and $1,000 for married individuals will be a boost for children in the lowest earning families. Substantial funding increases for childcare assistance, free pre-K education for 3- and 4-year-olds, and home visiting for families who are pregnant or have kids under age five all will improve overall child well-being across our state.

Amidst the flurry of genuine legislative accomplishments during this remarkable session, one piece of good news for youngsters and families that slipped under the radar was the legislature’s historic appropriation of $20 million in funds to support new learning opportunities for youth through afterschool, summer learning, and tutoring programs.  For comparison, previous years’ funding was $10 million for the 21st Century Learning Centers.

It is no exaggeration to say that this dedicated, recurring state support for out-of-school-time education is a game-changer.  It promises 20,000 New Mexico children access to learning at afterschool programs in public schools, charter schools, libraries, universities and at trusted community-based locations such as Boys & Girls Clubs. These are learning opportunities that can be life-changing, and peace of mind for hard-working families in need of support. 

The new funding comes at a critical time. Far too many of our children and youth are struggling today with serious issues impacting their mental health, learning, and futures. Young people are experiencing high rates of anxiety and depression. Despite the heroic efforts of educators across our state, many students are still struggling after the pandemic, and continue to be chronically absent from school.

With strong support from afterschool and summer learning, we can now deliver innovative solutions that engage students in powerful and new ways. Using this moment of fiscal strength to build a stronger, sustainable system of support for children and families will benefit generations to come.

The new investment will serve more children and youth in afterschool programs at public schools, charter schools, libraries, universities and at community-based locations such as local museums, 4-H clubs and YMCA.  Children and youth in programs are exposed to different perspectives and experiences they may not otherwise encounter, be it music, art and dance, coding, growing food, or building robots, which help them gain confidence and realize their full potential. They have time to socialize, build relationships with peers and mentors, have a tutor, explore careers, and gain workforce skills like teamwork, communication, and problem-solving. 

The positive outcomes of quality afterschool and summer learning programs are undeniable. New Mexico State University’s SOAR Evaluation and Policy Center partnered with the state Public Education Department (PED) 21st Century Community Learning Centers (CCLC) recently to conduct a statewide evaluation of almost nearly 8,000 students in programs.  In both math and English/ reading, the average grades of students increased.  The data also shows 89% of all students like their program, and 90% of the K-12 students agree that afterschool teachers care about them. Participants also appreciated the program for providing opportunities for engagement in a safe environment.

An independent report in 2019 supported by the respected Wallace Foundation showed afterschool and summer learning programs across the country improved a whole range of student outcomes, including student attendance, achievement in math and English, grades, graduation rates, and overall health and fitness.

Still, too many children, especially in rural in New Mexico, have been left out for too long.  Thanks to the work done during this year’s legislative session, that’s going to change.  A stable, consistent investment in our children who are the future, and the caring out-of-school-time educators who help these children attain that future, means moving New Mexico in the right direction.