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New Mexico ranks dead last in child well-being nationally, report says

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(The Center Square) – New Mexico ranks dead last among the 50 states for child well-being, according to the 2024 Kids Count Data Book released by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

New Mexico performed consistently poorly in each category measured. Those categories included: economic well-being (48th), education (50th), health (44th), and family and community (49th).

Economically, 23% of the state’s children live in poverty, 32% of children have parents who lack secure employment, and 28% of children live in households with high housing cost burdens.

Regarding education, 59% of children ages 3 and 4 are not in school, 79% of the state’s fourth graders are not proficient readers, 87% of eighth graders are not proficient in math, and 23% of high school students do not graduate on time.

“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 press release. “Reading proficiency is critical for students to succeed academically and as adults. 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. New Mexico K-12 students of color and those who are Native American, from low-income families, and who have disabilities tend to not fare as well as their white, more affluent peers, largely as a result of generations of underfunding the education system and a lack of culturally responsive instruction and support.”

The state’s children also have some health problems. Notably, 9.9% of newborns have a low birth weight, and 38% of children ages 10 to 17 are either overweight or obese. The state’s child and teen death rates per 100,000 (40) is also well above the national average (30).

New Mexico also struggled in the family and community category. For example, 45% of the state’s children live in single-parent households — far higher than the 34% national average; 19% of the state’s children live in high-poverty areas, more than double the national average (8%); and its teen birth rate (20 per 1,000) far exceeded the national average (14 per 1,000).

“Although there’s still work to do, New Mexico’s official child poverty rate continues to improve but change takes time,” Gabrielle Uballez, Executive Director of New Mexico Voices for Children, said. “And this measure of poverty only considers income. When we look instead at the supplemental poverty measure, which measures the impact of some of our best poverty-fighting policies, we see that New Mexico’s investments in families through refundable tax credits and income support programs have a real impact on lowering poverty rates and supporting family well-being.”

“New Mexico’s ranking is not a reflection of who we are but serves as a motivation to continue improving the systems in New Mexico that make it possible for kids and families to thrive,” Uballez added.

Educational disparities disproportionately exist for non-white students, children in immigrant families, and children from low-income families, according to The Annie E. Casey Foundation.

“Kids of all ages and grades must have what they need to learn each day, such as enough food and sleep and a safe way to get to school, as well as the additional resources they might need to perform at their highest potential and thrive, like tutoring and mental health services,” Lisa Hamilton, president and CEO of the Annie E. Casey Foundation said. “Our policies and priorities have not focused on these factors in preparing young people for the economy, short-changing a whole generation.”

The Casey Foundation recommends states make the following changes to improve their educational outcomes:

To get kids back on track, we must ensure access to low- or no-cost meals, a reliable internet connection, a place to study, and time with friends, teachers, and counselors.Expand access to intensive tutoring for students who are behind in their classes and missing academic milestones. Research has shown the most effective tutoring is in person, high dosage, and tied directly to the school.States should take advantage of all their allocated pandemic relief funding to prioritize the social, emotional, academic, and physical well-being of students. As long as funds are obligated by the Sept. 30 deadline, states should have two more full years to spend them.States and school systems should address chronic absence so more students return to learn. While few states gather and report chronic absence data by grade, all of them should. Improving attendance tracking and data will inform future decision-making. Lawmakers should embrace positive approaches rather than criminalizing students or parents due to attendance challenges because they may not understand the consequences of even a few days missed.Policymakers should invest in community schools, public schools that provide wraparound support to kids and families. Natural homes for tutoring, mental health support, nutritional aid, and other services, community schools use innovative and creative programs to support young learners and encourage parent engagement, which leads to better outcomes for kids.

Read the full report here.

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