Three years ago, when Javier Gonzales was campaigning for mayor of Santa Fe, he spent a great deal of time talking about children and families. How would he create a better and safer place for Santa Fe families? As a father he felt the same obligations that so many of us experience as parents: We want our kids to be safe, nurtured and of course, to have every opportunity that we did not. In short, we want them to thrive.
On this chilly Saturday morning, Mayor Gonzales is making good on his campaign promise to increase access to high-quality early learning opportunities for all Santa Fe children.
His solution? Pre-K for Santa Fe.
Pre-K for Santa Fe aims to ensure that all of Santa Fe’s 3-and 4-year-olds have access to high-quality, full-day, pre-kindergarten, to start kindergarten better prepared to learn. Research shows that 85 percent of the human brain develops in the first five years of life. This targeted policy would educate our youngest learners during a time of tremendous social, emotional, physical and intellectual development.
Pre-K students learn through play. Through a variety of play-based methods they learn socialization skills, how to negotiate conflict with their peers, basic literacy, confidence and self-esteem. Full-day pre-K benefits range from increased school readiness, enhanced social-emotional development and better physical health. Pre-K alumni show increased rates of high school graduation, higher rates of college attendance and greater earnings as adults.
Society also benefits from expanded access to early childhood education, including lower rates of juvenile delinquency, decreased rates of grade repetition and unnecessary special education placement, saving taxpayers millions of dollars. The benefits far outweigh the cost.
Yet despite all these benefits, and the establishment of New Mexico PreK initiative in 2005 providing state funding for early childhood programs, an estimated 1000 Santa Fe 3- and 4-year-olds have absolutely no access to pre-K, either because their families cannot afford the cost of private programs or because there is no availability in public programs due to insufficient funding. The statistics you may have heard are true: Childcare in New Mexico costs more than in-state college tuition and is, for many, more expensive than their mortgage or rent. The mayor’s initiative will provide access to early childhood education programs for children of working parents who otherwise might be denied.
The initiative will also fuel an economic engine in our city. Pre-K for Santa Fe will create an estimated 200 jobs for Santa Feans in early education, with professional development and benefits. This program will both expand and further professionalize early childhood education.
We hear so much about third grade reading levels. Sadly, what we don’t hear about often enough is how significant it is to read and talk to a child. The brain of a 3-year-old is two and a half times more active than an adult’s. Long before children learn to read and write in the conventional sense, they are learning about literacy. By 3 years of age, there is a 30 million word gap between children from the wealthiest and poorest families. A recent study shows that the vocabulary gap is evident even in toddlers. By 18 months, children in different socio-economic groups display dramatic differences in their vocabularies. That gap can be closed through Pre-K for Santa Fe.
Pre-K for Santa Fe will be funded through a two cent per ounce tax on sugary drinks. These taxes have been passed in San Francisco, Oakland, Berkeley, Boulder, Philadelphia, Mexico City and the Navajo Nation and are currently being considered in other communities across the country.
A study cited by Harvard University’s “Sugary Drinks and Obesity Fact Sheet” found that each 12-ounce soda consumed per day increases a child’s risk of becoming obese by 60 percent during a follow-up period of a year and a half. This initiative would not only benefit parents, children and public health but would support local businesses, who could attract families interested in relocating to the City Different by promoting the affordability and accessibility of pre-kindergarten. Dozens of business, including Back Road Pizza, Jambo, New York Deli, Meow Wolf and Sage Bakehouse, have already committed their support. You can see the full list at www.prekforsantafe.org.
If you would like to get involved, please sign up on the website or visit the Pre-K for Santa Fe Facebook page.
The Santa Fe City Council has scheduled a hearing on this proposal for March 8 at 5 p.m. Let your voice be heard. Call your city councilor today at www.santafenm.gov/elected_officials, and please come to the vote at the city council chambers of City Hall, 200 Lincoln Avenue in downtown Santa Fe. Visitors should arrive by 4:30 p.m.
Danila Crespin Zidovsky, MPA, is a policy analyst for United Way of Santa Fe County.