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Submitted by Ivydel Natachu, New Mexico educator

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New Mexicans will all benefit from a stronger economy and society when we improve our educational systems, especially our early childhood education system. This is why 70% of voters approved Constitutional Amendment 1 last November- because NM voters overwhelmingly support better education for our youngest kids. When early childhood education and care programs are discussed, it’s important to understand the profound impact these programs can have on working parents, all of NM’s youngest kids, and for early educators like myself, many of whom still earn poverty wages while providing education to our youngest children. We need legislators to fully fund all childcare programs from birth to pre-k and fulfill the will of NM voters. 

Our kids are the future. They’ll make up our future workforce and will be our doctors, teachers, chefs, engineers, and much more. I have spent the last 17 years educating young ones. I help jump-start their educational career so they can start their young lives on the right path. 80% of brain development happens by the age of 3, and 90% happens by age 5, so ensuring children are being nurtured and educated during this time is critical to their future well being. This work is so important, and early educators like me have known how important the work is for a long time. Unfortunately, due to systemic racism surrounding a legacy of women of color caring for and raising children, our struggle to be seen and heard in our fight to be recognized can feel insurmountable. 

For the first time ever, I joined a few colleagues, parents, and fellow members of OLÉ at the roundhouse to give public comment on the state budget. We were thrilled to have a voice in the budget making process and to urge full funding of the Early Childhood Education and Care Department budget request. We stayed in this hearing for nearly seven hours so we could be sure to emphasize the critical importance of early education funding. This budget request would fund wage increases for early educators, zero childcare copays for eligible parents, higher eligibility levels for childcare assistance for parents, and would help address childcare deserts to name a few. These are critical support programs that New Mexico parents, children, and early educators depend on. Financial assistance programs and higher wages for early educators will make a remarkable difference in the educational journey of New Mexico kids. 

I love my job. Working with kids is my passion, and guiding, nurturing, and educating them fills me with pride and joy. Last year, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham instituted a $3 wage increase for early educators. While this is meant to be a temporary raise, we know New Mexico can afford to make it permanent. With this new wage, I can finally work towards fulfilling my dream of owning my own home. In order for that to happen, and in order for NM’s early education system to continue improving for kids, the legislature should fully fund the ECECD’s budget request. I’ve always known how deeply important early education is for young kids, and it’s time for our legislators to recognize this and act. 

Ivydel Natachu is a member of OLÉ who has been an early educator for 17 years. Ivydel has a degree in early education and loves working with children. She has been at the forefront of the fight to raise wages for early educators for several years.