Preschool for all worth endeavor for state

Preschool education is a smart investment for the future. That’s true whether it’s made by the federal government, states or parents.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan brought the federal proposal — Preschool for All — to Santa Fe earlier this week.

President Barack Obama suggested $75 billion toward preschool education in his State of the Union address, although it’s hard to predict whether Congress will include it in the final 2014 budget. Republicans don’t like that Obama wants to fund preschool by raising the tax on tobacco; we’re just pleased that the president has a way to pay for the program.

Closer to home, Gov. Susana Martinez has committed $13.7 million to public school pre-K programs in New Mexico. She understands that children benefit from preschool preparation.

Those dollars could stretch even further if New Mexico reaches out for federal preschool funds once they become available.

If Congress endorses the president’s initiative, the number of U.S. children in pre-K would rise from about 1.1 million to 2.2. million nationally. Participation will not be mandatory, and Duncan said the feds will only seek to work with states who want to work with them.

New Mexico should be one of those states, although we are disappointed that Public Education Secretary-designate Hanna Skandera skipped the public event.

Despite being from different political parties, it seems beneficial for New Mexico for our education secretary to welcome the U.S. secretary of education when he’s in town. She should be able to appear with Duncan and share New Mexico’s education goals publicly, not just show up for a private talk.

With fewer than 40 percent of New Mexico’s school districts offering pre-K, some 17,000 students are losing out on better preparation for school. By taking part in the program, New Mexico could get $24.5 million the first year, bringing preschool to some 2,990 additional children across the state.

That’s not enough to close the gap, but it’s a start.

Of course, New Mexico can do more — there has been talk for years about tapping into a small portion of the Land Grant Permanent Fund to invest in the early years of a child’s life. With New Mexico children now dead last in well-being in the nation, the state should begin having a serious discussion on how best to give kids a healthy start in life.

Helping children reach their full potential is a goal that should unite people across political parties — Preschool for All is a worthy initiative, one that New Mexico should embrace.

— The Santa Fe New Mexican

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