Paul Gessing

The Rio Grande Foundation supports free-market policies.

New Mexico Voices for Children is on the left of the political spectrum and usually supports more government. There are vast areas of disagreement, but I believe New Mexicans across the political spectrum all want the state’s children to do better.

That’s why it is so disappointing that Voices for Children is seemingly using the annual “Kids Count” report it publishes with the support of the Annie E. Casey Foundation to sharpen political axes rather than working to ensure New Mexico does the best it can for its children.

Upon release of the “Kids Count” report, the group’s executive director, James Jimenez, said New Mexico’s ranking of 50th “was a real failure by the Martinez administration to invest in youth, children and families in a way that made much of a difference in terms of these kinds of rankings.”

But Jimenez notes elsewhere that New Mexico was ranked 49th before Martinez took office. Bill Richardson was Martinez’s predecessor, and Jimenez’s previous boss.

One can quibble with many aspects of the Martinez administration, but it’s not as if New Mexico children were doing great relative to those in other states before she took office.

If Voices were being more realistic, they might point out that Martinez struggled during her eight years in office to get any of her policy reforms through the Democrat-controlled legislature. It is, after all, the legislature that makes economic policy in New Mexico, and the legislature has been under Democratic control for a vast majority of New Mexico history.

The report itself covers numerous variables and is pretty good overall, and worth a read. It is hard to argue that children in poverty or without parents working are good things. We also agree completely that fourth-graders should be able to read and eighth-graders should be proficient in math.

Ironically, you never hear folks discuss one of the report’s 16 variables. Perhaps urging marriage and family formation as an antidote to single-parent families is not seen as “progressive” enough.

Most of the Kids Count report tracks and relays what we already know: New Mexico is an economically impoverished state with major social issues driven in part by the breakdown of the family.

It is hard to criticize one person, the head of one branch of New Mexico government, for all of these failings.

My foundation sees New Mexico’s problem as a lack of free markets and economic freedom, leading to poverty and dependency. Our solutions involve more choice in education, and a limited role for government welfare programs so as to not encourage dependence on them or the replacement of family and community with government.

Finally, we support government getting out of the way of businesses in ways that encourage entrepreneurial spirit and private-sector growth.

New Mexico’s problems with child outcomes are deep-seated and complicated. We are all responsible for solving them, and it is unfair and unwise to blame one politician for our failings or to expect some new government program to solve them.

(Paul Gessing is the president of New Mexico’s Rio Grande Foundation. The Rio Grande Foundation is an independent, tax-exempt research and educational organization.)