July 1 marked the inauguration of New Mexico’s newest state agency — the New Mexico Early Childhood Education and Care Department (ECECD). The department was created as part of Senate House Bill 22 in 2019.
The new department is only the 4th cabinet-level state early childhood department in the nation and was formed as part of Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham’s policy priority to improve the lives of children in the state, which has consistently ranked near to bottom in measures of child well-being and childhood poverty.
In an op-ed for the Santa Fe New Mexican, the new secretary of the ECECD, Elizabeth Groginsky, outlined the benefits of opening the new department, emphasizing that early childhood will now be an equal partner with K-12, higher education, and other human services agencies in creating policies for children. Further, it will allow for more cohesive and equitable systems as it brings all of the state’s early childhood services, which have been spread across multiple departments, into one agency that will include home visiting, early intervention, nurse case management, child care, pre-k, and nutrition.
The department will receive funding in part from the newly created Early Childhood Trust Fund, which was established earlier this year. According to a press release from the Governor’s office, the fund will be sustained by the surplus of two revenue sources and will be distributed to early childhood programming starting in 2022.
The department will seek to engage stakeholders from across the state. In an effort to ensure a strong partnership with New Mexico’s native communities, the department includes a new leadership position — assistant secretary for Native American early childhood education and care — which is held by Jovanna Archuleta, a longtime advocate for early childhood services for native communities.
There is still much work to be done to ensure positive outcomes for New Mexico’s kids. The new department has already faced challenges as early childhood programs struggle to provide services during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Nonetheless, the Alliance celebrates this victory and looks forward to continuing partnerships with early childhood advocates and funders in New Mexico.