General Education

How Preschool Works in New Mexico

How Preschool Works in New Mexico
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Noodle Staff August 31, 2015

A 5-minute guide to preschool and child care in New Mexico. Learn about licensing laws, instructor training, and enrollment requirements — everything you need to know to choose the right program for your child.

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Takeaway: New Mexico has steadily increased funding to many types of early childhood education programs. Licensed care, provided at centers and at homes, is supervised by the Children, Youth, and Family Department. New Mexico also employs a quality rating improvement system called STARS. The state provides several helpful guides and databases to help parents understand their options.


New Mexico employs STARS, a quality rating improvement system that rates all licensed child care centers on a scale of one to five stars, depending on the standard of care they provide. One-star programs meet the most basic licensing requirements set out by the state (but do not receive a government subsidy), while five-star programs go above and beyond, providing smaller-than-legally-necessary teacher-to-child ratios, increased staff training and family involvement, and an enhanced learning environment where children can thrive. The STARS system not only gives families a better idea of what they will get at each child care facility, but the STARS rubric{: target="_blank" rel="nofollow"} also helps parents prioritize factors to consider when selecting a provider. Additionally, New Mexico’s Children, Youth, and Family Department (CYFD) has issued a Parent’s Guide to Finding to Selecting Quality Child Care{: target="_blank" rel="nofollow"}, a manual that includes overviews of the different kinds of child care that are available, questions to ask a provider, and a checklist to take with you when you visit a provider.

Families can use New Mexico’s database search{: target="blank" rel="nofollow" } to find different early childhood education options. The website requires an account and provides fairly robust results. Searches can be filtered by city and type of care, and results display contact information, ages served, quality rating, capacity, and transportation information. The Child, Youth, and Family Department also provides a database{: target="_blank" rel="nofollow" } that shows users how providers were evaluated on their last few surveys.

The State of Preschool 2014{: target="_blank" rel="nofollow" } report by the National Institute of Early Education Research ranked New Mexico in 19th place in terms of pre-K access, indicating that 27.4 percent of the state’s 4-years olds attended a state-run pre-K in the 2013–2014 school year (compared to the national average of 29 percent for 4-year-olds). New Mexico does not offer state-funded pre-K programs for 3-year-olds.

That said, funding for early childhood education in New Mexico has been steadily increasing in the last decade, and in recent years, the state’s government has made it a priority to ensure quality childcare and preschool programs. In 2014, New Mexico increased funding to early childhood education by $28 million{: target="_blank" rel="nofollow"}, which included support to implement a pilot program for new full-day pre-K programs, train and retain early childhood educators, and improve home-based child care. In 2015, the New Mexico budget allocated an additional $25 million{: target="_blank" rel="nofollow"} to expand pre-K programs. The total of early education funding in fiscal year 2015 was $222 million{: target="_blank" rel="nofollow"}.

Center-Based Care

According to the CYFD{: target="_blank" rel="nofollow" }, a child care center is defined as a program “that provides care, education, services, and supervision to children" in a non-residential facility for less than 24 hours a day. The maximum number of children allowed in a facility depends on the capacity of the facility, but there are still certain teacher-to-child ratios that child care centers must adhere to. These are 1:6 for children 6 weeks to 24 months old, 1:10 for 2-year-olds, 1:12 for groups of 3-year-olds or 4-year-olds, and 1:15 for children over 5. Ratios vary{: target="_blank" } somewhat for centers where age groups are mixed. It’s important to note that ratios become more favorable in highly-rated centers. For centers with a rating of four or five STARS: target="_blank" rel="nofollow"}, teacher-to-child ratios are 1:5 for children 6 weeks to 24 months old, 1:8 for two-year olds, 1:10 for three- or four-year-olds, and 1:12 for children over 5 (again, with slight variations for centers where age groups are mixed).

At child care centers that comply with the minimum requirements, all employees must pass a federal background check and receive 24 hours of early childhood education training a year. To receive four or five STARS, employees must complete a 45-hour introductory course to early childhood development (or be working toward or have graduated from an early childhood program), create plans of improvement based on evaluations, and have staff meetings that occur on a regular basis.

Child care centers have specific requirements about the documentation, health and safety of the physical environment, and age-appropriate activities for children, which are all presented in the state’s legislation{: target="_blank" rel="nofollow" }.

The CYFD surveys centers at least twice a year. After each survey, inspectors work with the child care providers to come up with an improvement plan, if necessary, and will also schedule any needed follow-up surveys. These surveys may or may not be announced and must be passed so providers can renew their licenses each year.

Home-Based Care

There are two types of home-based care in New Mexico: family child care homes and a group child care homes. A family child care home provides care for up to six children in the home of the provider, and a group child care home has two caretakers who supervise seven to 12 children at the home of one of the providers. The provider’s children who are under 6 years old count toward the totals for both of these types of care.

To be licensed, both types of care must provide fewer than 24 hours of care, get a specific license if they wish to care for two to four children under the age of 2, and comply with the rules and regulations{: target="_blank" rel="nofollow"} set by the New Mexico CYFD.

As with center-based care, family child care homes receive a STAR rating between one and five, depending on their quality. One-STAR centers adhere to the minimum licensing rules, while five-STAR centers go above and beyond. For instance, the minimum requirements for home-based providers is that their personnel pass a background check, complete a minimum of 12 hours of training, and have at least one staff member who knows how to administer first aid and CPR. To receive five STARS, home-based providers must comply with such standards as having staff members and non-relative caregivers create a plan of improvement and implement a family involvement plan that allows parents to know what their children are doing at the facility.

Licenses must be renewed by the CYFD every year, and the department surveys providers for compliance at least once a year — and more often if there are complaints.

Unlicensed Care

New Mexico has two forms of unlicensed care: registered home care and license-exempt care. Registered homes provide care to up to four children and must comply with their own set of regulations{: target="_blank" rel="nofollow" }. Registered homes are required to participate in the Child and Adult Care Food Program if they are open during meal times, meaning that providers get reimbursed in exchange for providing children with healthy food. Families can search for registered family care homes in their area using this database{: target="_blank" rel="nofollow"}.

License-exempt care{: target="_blank" rel="nofollow"} includes religious programs, summer camps, programs operated by the federal government, programs where parents are on the premises, and care provided directly by parents.

Discover New Mexico preschools near you using the free Noodle preschool search, the most comprehensive tool of its kind.


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