As the nation grapples with a persistent child care crisis, other states are looking to New Mexico as a model of what is possible. The people behind the successful effort to rally statewide support for better funding of the state’s system say it took a decade of advocacy by child care workers steeped in the hard reality of low wages and underfunded classrooms, and a campaign that energized these workers — nearly all women, and predominantly Latinas — to take their pleas directly to the doors of voters across the state.
The result is millions in new spending on child care that will make permanent reforms ushered in by Democrat Michelle Lujan Grisham, the nation’s only Latina governor, and Early Education Secretary Elizabeth Groginsky, and paid for with temporary federal COVID-19 relief dollars. The top line: The state will pay child care providers more money per child, more families will be eligible to receive free child care, and workers will get permanent raises of $3 over what they were making before the pandemic, creating a floor of $15 per hour. Advocates hope more raises will follow.
The New Mexico legislature is slated to approve these plans in the coming weeks, a momentous achievement after years of advocacy work led by the women who spend their days caring for New Mexico’s youngest residents, and 11 months of relentless grassroots campaigning leading up to the referendum.
“At the end of the day, the field operation was mainly impacted folks — child care providers and the families in need of child care. It was women, nonbinary folks and youth of color. That was our field operation across the state,” said Eli Cuna, the campaign manager for the Vote Yes for Kids coalition behind the constitutional amendment. “The message was that this is your money, and you have the opportunity of a lifetime to decide what happens to it.”
The opportunity to pass the referendum was teed up by a decade of work that started with a simple premise: Convince policymakers and the public of the value of child care workers at a time when they felt derided as no more than babysitters. Then, secure enough votes to put a referendum on the ballot that would boost funding for the state’s child care system.
OK, I grant it isn’t easy. But it can be done.