NM PreK: The Terrible No Good Horrible Very Bad Lottery System

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Marianna
 Anaya
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A little over three and a half years ago, freelancer Sascha Guinn Anderson and her family moved to New Mexico from the state of New York. Her family’s decision to move here was not based on a business or tax incentive, but rather, was based on the promise of a public, Pre-Kindergarten early learning program (PreK) for their children. “In New York, basically you buy your way into PreK,” said Anderson. She explained the inequitable and lengthy process of securing a spot: Beginning at age two, families often pay for their children to enter expensive, private, early childhood programs in order to later be grandfathered into neighboring, public, PreK programs for three and four-year-olds. Anderson recalls mounting pressure to register her two-year-old in an expensive, early learning program. That’s when she and her partner decided to move to New Mexico.

Now, Anderson lives in Santa Fe where she continues her work as a freelancer. Her husband is a meat buyer for Whole Foods and together, they have three girls, one dog, and three chickens. An outdoor adventurer and math enthusiast, Winnie, 6, is their oldest child. Georgie, who recently turned 4, is their “strong-willed” garden helper who loves to change clothes multiple times a day. “She’s really into fashion right now,” says Anderson with a laugh. Hilde, not yet 1, is a “delightful and kind baby.”

Together, the Anderson family has navigated New Mexico Pre-K alongside an online community of Santa Fe Parents. In Santa Fe and throughout the state, PreK is technically open for all families to apply. The catch is, there are limited seats available to families, forcing a lottery system. Families who are fortunate enough to have their children chosen to attend PreK have access to the educational services for free. Others are placed onto waitlists. In either case, the process of finding out the results can ongoingly stressful. 

Winnie was the first in the Anderson family to register for PreK in New Mexico, her first year “whipping” through the lottery for Tesuque PreK, in what is considered a “full-day” program that lasts from 8am-3pm. Housed in a Title I, 99% free and reduced lunch school, Anderson recalls Tesuque providing a hands-on, play-based setting for learning, where students were able to access earth science classes at least once a week. “Her teacher was truly an outstanding educator. She had a real understanding of children and how they learn,” said Anderson, reflecting on lessons in best practice, passed down from her grandmother, a professor in Early Childhood Education. 

Their family’s experience with the lottery system this year was completely different. The Anderson’s applied for a PreK spot and waited in anticipation like other families across the state. The results of the lottery drawing were advertized to be posted at 8:00 pm. 7:55 pm came and the Anderson’s sat at their phone, eagerly refreshing their web page and keeping a close eye on the Santa Fe PreK Parent group online. 8:00 pm struck and they hurriedly refreshed the New Mexico PreK page. Nothing. 8:30 pm came- another refresh, and still, no answers. 9:00 pm, nothing. By that time, the online PreK parent thread was blowing up. 11:00 am the next morning? Nothing. 

This process went on for nearly a month, with one robocall and two emails in between explaining that the PreK program was waiting on funding from the PED. The Anderson’s were fortunate enough to secure a spot in public PreK again this year. For other parents, however, the extended wait time to find out whether their child had a place in public PreK forced families to lose out on spots within private PreK, had they enough funds to afford a spot there. 

For the Anderson family, cobbling together childcare for the rest of their family is a hardship. Georgie, who just missed the birthday cut-off for public PreK this year, goes to a private PreK facility two times a week, and free church program the other three days. Their family makes just over the income threshold required for CYFD funded programs, which limits them to expensive childcare programs. “Some might consider these little problems,” said Anderson, noting the lengthy and inequitable lottery process “but it points to a larger issue. The quality is incredible, it’s the process that’s inaccessible.”

Nevertheless, Anderson stays an advocate for quality and equitable PreK in New Mexico. “You can really see what a difference PreK makes. Even within two months, it’s amazing how much [Georgie has] grown both socially and emotionally. She is able to express her feelings and is able to recognize letters and that letters make sounds.” She notes, specifically, the concepts are developed organically, through play-based learning with her child, not through worksheets. “It’s the best experience we could have had. Especially for fostering a lifelong love of learning in our children.” 

It’s the best experience we could have had. Especially for fostering a lifelong love of learning in our children.

Hope for a more accessible PreK program in New Mexico rests in upcoming legislative sessions, and now, in the Department of Early Childhood Learning – a department that was created by the Governor and the New Mexico Legislature during the 2019 Legislative Session. 

While the Department has yet to add additional PreK seats for children, it does have the unique opportunity to end the anxiety-ridden lottery system for families. The Governor ran on a promise of Universal PreK: the assurance that all three and four-year-olds will have access to a PreK program that is funded through our state. Now, she has the opportunity to deliver. 

So many New Mexico parents lose sleep at night, asking themselves whether their child will have a seat in a high-quality PreK program, or whether their children will start school further behind their peers? We all agree what the answer to this question should be; Now let’s make it happen.

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Alissa Barnes :: Executive Director
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Alissa Barnes is Executive Director at ProgessNow New Mexico where she leads a team that works on message development, issue and voter education, and amplification of progressive messages and values. She leads the organization in strategy development, fundraising, and organizational growth and sustainability.

Alissa’s background includes nearly 12 years at Roadrunner Food Bank where Alissa led the development and creation of multiple programs that are now national models, invested in community building and collaborations, and worked closely with elected officials, educating about hunger and why policies would either benefit or hurt clients in food lines. She has a BA from the University of New Mexico and various non-profit certifications.
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Marianna Anaya :: Deputy Director
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Marianna oversees strategic messaging and creative implementation tactics for issue-based and political campaigns. She leads the team’s digital and earned media programs, bringing a New Mexico values-based approach to her work. 

Marianna’s background includes race and ethnic studies in education as a focus at UT Austin and UCLA, political campaign work, staffing former Congresswoman Michelle Lujan Grisham as well as leading organizing and communications work for the Albuquerque Teachers Federation.

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Lucas Herndon :: Energy and Policy Director
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Lucas’ focus is on all things energy and environment, election integrity projects and general messaging strategy. He is often the front facing voice for PNNM when it comes to issues surrounding methane, renewable energy, oil industry accountability, and public lands issues. 

Lucas has an extensive background in public lands and solar energy. He was instrumental in the creation of the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument in 2014 and has participated in every local election since 2012 through phone banking, online organizing, and poll watching. Lucas is a lifelong resident of Las Cruces where he has served in various capacities of leadership including as President of the Las Cruces Green Chamber of Commerce, District Director for the Dona Ana County Democratic Party, and attending and completing the inaugural classes of the Las Cruces Neighborhood Leadership Academy and the Las Cruces Tree Stewards. 

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Josette Arvizu :: Communications Director
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Josette Arvizu is the Communications Director at ProgressNow New Mexico where she oversees the development and implementation of systems that further the external and internal communications of the organization.

Josette’s background in marketing includes copywriting, paid media, SEO and content strategy for businesses and nonprofits, including convention and visitor bureaus from Bermuda to Anaheim. She began her career teaching writing to college students while in New Mexico State University’s MFA in creative writing program. Her previous work promoting diversity and inclusion includes coordination of writing and traditional arts workshops for Native American youth at the Tucson Indian Center.
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Jackie Aguirre :: Communications Specialist
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Jackie’s focus is on graphics and social media marketing that promote progressive issues across our state. 

Jackie’s background includes work in the Reproductive Justice space focusing on Latinx, Chicanx and Mexican-American communities.

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Edgar Cruz :: Communications Specialist
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Edgar Cruz is a Communications Specialist at ProgressNow New Mexico where he focuses on video creation and research that promotes progressive issues across our state.

Edgar has a background producing multimedia initiatives. With over five years of radio production experience, he is a movement agent who believes in exploring all avenues of media to inform and engage community.

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