My name is Carmella Salinas. I am an early educator, a Pre-K teacher from the Family Learning center in Espanola, NM. I am one of the thousands of New Mexico Early Educators who is paid FAR too little for the difficult and important work of providing an early education for New Mexico's children. What has kept me in this field is the kids. But passion doesn’t pay the bills.
As an early educator, I deserve to live with dignity, but the average hourly wage of $9.98 per hour in New Mexico's private early learning centers is outright disrespectful. What has pushed so many qualified teachers out of the field is the low pay and no benefits. Is this good for the kids?
Now, one might read this and think that I am angry with my boss- that perhaps this post is to request your support to help me demand a raise from the owner of the Family Learning Center. But, owners of small early learning centers across the state are also struggling.This is because early learning centers who receive funding from the state, like my center does for our Pre-K students, do not get reimbursed at rates that are equal to the cost of delivering the high-quality early education we provide. Many close their doors for this reason alone. Thus, few owners can afford to pay the wages and benefits that will keep highly qualified teachers in their centers. In fact, many center owners say they endure months where they do not pay themselves so that they can instead pay their staff. Small center owners- like teachers- do this for the kids. But, is this situation good for the kids?
So, if you read this and can understand that teachers and owners need more revenue for our centers, then you might believe we are advocating for raising tuition rates on parents, right? Wrong. Parents are struggling to afford an early education for their children. In fact, a recent study put out by the Economic Policy Institute demonstrates that it is more expensive to put an infant through one year of care than it is to pay for a year of college! This is despite the fact that the federal government recommends that states set up assistance to families so that working parents do not pay more than 7% of their annual income for the cost of childcare. The average cost to New Mexico families is between 17% and 32% of their annual income depending on the age of the child. Parents then face the same dilemma that center owners and early educators do; do I pay my water bill, or the early learning center? Today 35,000 kids whose parents are eligible for a childcare contract are not enrolled because the state doesn’t provide adequate funding to cover those contracts, not can the afford to pay tuition on their own. Is this good for the kids?
So here is our reality: Parents can't afford to pay, teachers can't afford to stay. There's got to be a better way! We are the PEOPLE for the Kids: Parents, Early-educators and Owners, Partnering for Learning in Early-education for the Kids. We are fighting for a better way. The way forward is together. We have sacrificed for years in our state's environment of scarcity, and now we are coming together to create voice to speak out for our centers, and build a brighter future for the kids. The state will do everything they can to pit us against each other. This is how they have gotten away with giving us all tiny pieces of a pie that is way too small. They will tell us there is no money. They will tell us they will have to raise our taxes. They will tell us that if we ask for raises they will have to cut off more families. They will tell us that if we try to enroll more kids, they will not be able to raise reimbursements. They will cut the pie in ways that are intended to get us all to blame one another for the problems that have to do with trying to give out pieces of a pit that is way too small.
That is why we are standing together to win a constitutional right to early education in the state for children from birth to age five. If we do this, the state will be obligated to create a system that ensures all young kids whose parents want their child in an early learning environment has the access s/he needs. What would this look like? What if every family who wanted access to high quality early learning programs in the state could get it? Would this be good for the kids? What if centers had enough resources to ensure that they could retain and train highly qualified teachers? Would this be good for the kids? What if staff were given the opportunity to earn more as they increase their training? Would this be good for the kids? What if every parent could afford a local early learning center of their choosing, with the added assurance that the curricula helped prepare kids to perform better when they get to Kindergarten, and beyond? Would this be good for the kids?
All of these questions really boil down to one singular question. If you believe in this vision of early learning in our state and you want to help create bright futures for the next generation of kids, then the only question we need to answer is what would happen if we all stuck together? What if you joined us? What if everyone reading these words decided to join us? If we stay united, parents, early educators and small early learning center owners we can achieve our goals. And if you are none of these, but, you have decided you want to live in a New Mexico that does better by its kids, you too can join us. Click on this link and join us to add your voice to become one more voice among many thousands of people, united for the kids.