Editor: Strengthening the workforce before K is the right step

Million dollar grants to New Mexico colleges and universities to improve diversity in early childhood education are commendable. New Mexico is one of the most culturally diverse states in the nation, and children from all of our communities deserve and need strong role models that begin at a young age.

The Early Childhood Education and Care Department recently announced $7 million in endowment grants to seven New Mexico colleges and universities. The scholarships aim to attract Indigenous and bilingual students to the early education field to strengthen the diversity of the workforce, similar to the $1,500 incentives the department offers to bilingual students.

Much of the $7 million will be used to recruit faculty members to attract more diverse students. Officials at San Juan College in Farmington say they will use their $607,000 grant to recruit 125 Indigenous and bilingual students over a five-year period.

It is an ambitious and laudable goal.

Also on the horizon are plans to increase pay for early childhood jobs, which currently earn about $12 an hour — or a meager $25,000 a year.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham last month announced a plan to use $77 million from the Federal American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 to increase the starting salary of early responders by $3 an hour. Once that funding is depleted, the money to sustain the increases could come from other federal dollars, a recently established state early childhood trust fund, or increased distributions from New Mexico’s Land Grant Permanent Fund.

Either way, it’s imperative to maintain pay increases for an estimated 13,000 to 16,000 childcare workers employed at 951 licensed daycare centers across the state. As Ivydel Natachu, early childhood education worker, notes in today’s letters to the editor, many providers are struggling to hire and retain workers.

Higher wages for childcare workers and college scholarships that target diverse students are important steps in ensuring our youngest New Mexicans have role models to relate to.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is not signed as it reflects the opinion of the newspaper and not the authors.

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