Staffing marks top education goal for New Mexico lawmakers

SANTA FE, NM (AP) — New Mexico lawmakers are meeting beginning Tuesday to craft the state’s budget, about half of which is expected to go to K-12 education.

Early proposals from key legislative committees and the governor set the total budget at about $8.4 billion and the K-12 public school budget at about $3.8 billion, an increase of 12 % compared to last year.

A growing education workforce crisis takes center stage in this discussion, as New Mexico struggles to keep America’s oldest teaching workforce in the classroom, keep up with inflation and compete with other states and private employers raising wages.

Heads of state say funding increases, including raises, are possible, thanks to rising oil and gas revenues, and essential to fill government and public school positions. They also believe it is necessary, with unfilled teaching positions reaching around 1,000 and many more school worker positions going unfilled. With national inflation at 7% and strong competition from the private sector, recruiting teachers and other workers into staff schools is a growing challenge.

Democrats hold the governor’s office and strong majorities in the state House and Senate, and their pending priorities are very likely to become law.

But Republicans want to restrict how race is taught in schools, ban vaccination mandates and pursue the longstanding priority of allowing parents to shift funding for their child’s education from public to private schools.


THE TEACHER INCREASES

Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham and key legislative committees are in phase to propose an increase in the minimum salary for teachers based on certification levels. The objective is to make the State competitive with its neighbours, to encourage young people to join the profession and to stem imminent retirements.

Currently, entry-level teachers earn at least $41,000 and this would increase to around $50,000, with mid-level teachers earning at least $60,000, and master teachers around $70,000. For teachers affected by the minimums, the increases could reach 20%.

For teachers already earning close to these levels, a minimum increase of 7% would be instituted. A similar increase is proposed for school staff, from janitors to principals. Given the rate of inflation, this would not equate to an increase in purchasing power.

Legislators are proposing many other ways to add teachers.

“We’re putting money into paying off our teacher loans, our scholarships, and (the Train Your Own Teachers Act),” Senate Speaker Mimi Stewart said.

Stewart and Lujan Grisham also support a plan to pay teachers of Indigenous language arts and culture the same as beginning teachers. For years they were paid as teaching assistants, with salaries as low as $14,000. But if the proposal is passed, their language teaching certification, approved by tribal authorities, would count for compensation.

FOOD, MAINTENANCE, TEACHING ASSISTANTS

In New Mexico’s largest school district, Albuquerque, there were 742 vacancies Friday. Only 225 had “teacher” in the title, with catering and maintenance worker vacancies taking up a large portion of the list. Teaching assistants are also rare, and many cover teacher shortages, with a teaching workload and no commensurate pay.

There is a proposal to set a minimum wage for school workers at just over $13 an hour, which might be competitive in rural areas but less so in cities like Albuquerque. Some lawmakers are calling for a $15 minimum wage, which Lujan Grisham approved for state employees, but not for school employees.

Overall, raises could encounter difficulties. In Las Cruces, for example, increased funds could end up in the hands of contractors and not reach the drivers due to their contract structure. Drivers in this city went on strike this fall, causing students to miss an increasingly rare day of in-person learning.

AMERICAN NATIONAL STUDENTS

A court found in 2018 that low-income, Native American, English-learning and disabled students — about 70% of all K-12 students — are not being offered an adequate education, which is guaranteed in the state constitution.

The court identified areas where the state needed to improve education, but did not prescribe exactly how to fix the problems in the Martinez-Yazzie education lawsuit, named after the Hispanic and Native American mothers of the complaining students.

As he nears the final year of his first term, Lujan Grisham has not released a plan to respond to the ruling or negotiated with plaintiffs’ attorneys.

Without a plan from the courts or the governor, the legislature does not know what it can fund in order to resolve the lawsuit.

MORE SCHOOL DAYS

The lawsuit assigned responsibility for closing the education divide to the Legislative Assembly and the governor, but public school districts still hold most of the power over school management. State lawmakers generally agree that students need more days in class to close the learning gap between more and less economically advantaged students.

The urgency for further learning has only increased during the pandemic, which by all available data indicates that students have fallen further behind, in a state that routinely ranks last in measures. academic competence of students from kindergarten to 12th grade.

But more school days mean shorter summers. And it hasn’t received support from the more vocal teachers or parents, who tend to show up at school board meetings. Last year, superintendents and school boards rejected tens of millions of dollars in public funding for additional days, bowing to local pressure.

Proposals from lawmakers this month suggest a new approach, offering the benefits of an extra days program, with fewer restrictions. For example, schools might be able to offer more instructional hours during the school year instead of lengthening it.

“It is the belief of the executive and I think … from the legislature that we have learned from COVID and also from the review of research that we need more time with students engaged with their teachers,” said Education Secretary Kurt Steinhaus before a legislative committee on Friday. .

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Attanasio is a member of the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative body. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places reporters in local newsrooms to report on underreported issues. Follow Attanasio on Twitter.

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