An innovative new program to recruit teachers for New Mexico public schools received a lot of national attention recently, as it should have. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s Supporting Teachers and Families initiative is using volunteers from the National Guard and state agencies to keep our schools open for the in-person learning. Our educators, children and families need to thrive.
We are deeply indebted to these National Guard members, state employees and community members who have stepped up to help support our educators and students during this challenging time. But we also know that these substitutes cannot replace the expertise and training of New Mexico’s educators, and our state needs more of these dedicated professionals.
Many people want to answer the call to teach, but society hasn’t made it easy for them to do so. College students often have to weigh tens of thousands of dollars in student loans against the potential rewards. For too long, that scale has not tipped in favor of careers in education, ultimately contributing to a nationwide educator workforce crisis.
In New Mexico, although we successfully reduced teacher vacancies by nearly 25% in 2019 by raising pay, eliminate a hated standardized test and instituting a new educator evaluation system, the number of teacher vacancies nearly doubled from the 2020-2021 school year to this school year. We must use every tool in our toolbox to help more teachers get into, and stay in, this critical profession.
But there’s good news. Under the leadership of Gov. Lujan Grisham, New Mexico’s three education agencies are collaborating to fortify our teacher pipeline, support our valued educators and address the pressing need to recruit a greater number of qualified teachers.
Increasing educator salaries is an important step toward making sure teachers feel valued for their expertise, hard work and the critical role they play in our children’s lives.
The governor’s proposed 7% pay raise for all pre-K-12 public school educators is a big step in the right direction, as is her proposal to raise minimum salaries by $10,000 for the three teaching tiers to $50,000, $60,000 and $70,000. These measures will make our state competitive with our states, drawing more into the profession and attracting more to our state.
We’re also opening new pathways to becoming a teacher in New Mexico. On the state level, our plan is to provide additional support for the educator fellows program and teacher residencies. The educator fellows program provides resources to districts and state charter schools to help recruit and retain teaching assistants and get them into the pipeline to become full teachers. Teacher residencies help pay college education majors to gain experience by working in high-need districts.
The New Mexico Higher Education Department is working alongside the state’s other education agencies to support current and future teachers at all levels and to recruit and retain teachers from multilingual and multicultural backgrounds. We are investing $10 million in fiscal 2023 into the Teacher Preparation Affordability Scholarship and Teacher Loan Repayment programs, which helped nearly 3,000 New Mexico teachers in the past year.
Gov. Lujan Grisham’s plan to make free college a reality for all New Mexicans will also go a long way toward ensuring New Mexicans can choose to pursue teaching degrees without having to worry about paying off debt as they embark on their careers. This will go a long way toward ensuring qualified and motivated educators can continue to work and live in their communities.
The Early Childhood Education and Care Department pays 100% of tuition and books and offers mentoring for early childhood professionals seeking advanced degrees and certifications from in-state universities, creating a pipeline to put highly qualified teachers in classrooms with our youngest learners. ECECD is also working to ensure early childhood professionals reflect New Mexico’s diversity, investing in recruitment of bilingual and indigenous educators and offering incentive bonuses to child care professionals who obtain bilingual certifications.
New Mexico’s kids deserve the very best education we can provide them, and educators deserve to be given every opportunity to do so. These strategic and collaborative investments will set us on a path toward making both of those possible. We urge the state Legislature to support these proposals.