New Mexico Ranks 50th in Child Welfare, Shows Mixed Progress in Several Areas

New Mexico's best placement was in 2021 when the state climbed to 49th in the rankings.

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For the third year in a row, New Mexico is last in the nation for child welfare, according to the 2024 KIDS Count Data Book released this week.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation prepares the report for all 50 states. Its mission to track child well being in the country focuses on compiling federal data on four factors: family and community, education performance, overall health and economic reality.

New Mexico historically falls at the bottom of this report. Its best placement was in 2021 when the state climbed to 49th in the rankings.

The 2024 report shows Arizona (42nd) and Texas (43rd) as states with similar issues to New Mexico’s. Colorado (17th) and Utah (3rd) are neighboring states leading on child welfare, the report shows.

Utah was also listed as number one in the nation for the Family and Community indicator that measures teen pregnancies, the number of children in single parent households, living in poverty and the education outcomes in their households.

New Mexico sits near the bottom of the list for that indicator but it is also the one where the state has shown the most improvement since 2019 with more kids living in economically stable homes with better educated parents. Teen births are also down in New Mexico since 2019.

On the other hand, education outcomes in New Mexico and across the country saw declines in three of the four indicators, specifically in reading and math proficiency.

Deficiencies in education

New Mexico’s education performance tracked with the rest of the nation while starting with a notably higher rate of children not proficient in fourth grade reading (79% up from 76% in 2019) and eighth grade math (87% up from 79% in 2019).

“New Mexico’s ranking in the education domain is heavily impacted by national standardized test scores, including fourth grade reading proficiency,” Emily Wildau, KIDS COUNT coordinator at New Mexico Voices for Children, said in a news release. “These scores do not reflect the ability of our children, but rather an education system that is not designed with our multicultural, multilingual students in mind.”

The state’s K-12 Plus Program is mentioned in the report as an example of a state “bolstering services and resources that equip kids to learn.” The program was created by a new state law passed during the 2023 regular legislative session and signed by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham.

House Bill 130 changed part of the Public School Code to extend instructional time requirements for elementary and secondary education. It also allows for an increase in funding from the state if local school districts and charter schools extend the learning calendar past 180 days, or 155 days for districts with four-day school weeks.

However, the decision to extend the school year is a topic lawmakers, schools boards, educators, students and parents have had differing opinions on. The law setting school calendars based on hours, not days, is currently held up in court and might not be in effect before the new school year begins.

Health indicators help then hurt New Mexico’s score

Health indicators over the last decade have helped improve the state’s scores, but improvements appear to have stagnated over the last couple of years.

The number of New Mexico children without health insurance improved between 2019 and 2022, according to the data book. But the state also reported an increase in babies born at a low birth weight and an increase in deaths of children and teens.

In 2022, New Mexico experienced 40 child or teen deaths per 100,00 compared to the national average of 30 deaths per 100,000. And nearly 10% of babies born in New Mexico were born at low birth weight.

Meanwhile, the state also reported some improvement in the family and community sector, including a decrease in teen births.

Solutions for addressing overall child well being

The KIDS COUNT report offered several solutions for states to consider when addressing overall child well being, including the implementation of more community schools throughout the school districts in the states.

Community schools are public schools that work to meet the needs of children outside of traditional education. This includes providing regular meals to children and families, mental health services and connections to other areas of support.

According to the New Mexico Public Education Department, there were 150 community schools in the state as of September 2023, with 91 schools receiving state grant funding through the department.

The wraparound services provided through community schools were highlighted in the databook as beneficial for addressing factors in children’s home life that might make it a struggle for them to learn in school.

Source New Mexico is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Source New Mexico maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Shaun Griswold for questions: info@sourcenm.com. Follow Source New Mexico on Facebook and X.

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