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The League of Women Voters of New Mexico (LWVSNM) believes that education is the foundation for a strong and viable representative democracy. The League supports public education which incorporates principles of educational equity, multicultural, multilingual education, and policies to ensure the highest level of academic achievement for all students.
Many K-12 schools in New Mexico, including those in Doña Ana County, are in crisis mode for lack of sufficient educators and support staff and time for planning, preparing and supporting students. Recent reports indicate that we have a significant teacher shortage, with vacancies in New Mexico doubling over the past year. It is also challenging to find substitute teachers. These conditions contribute to distress, as testified by members of the LCPS faculty and staff at a recent school board meeting. Possible solutions include increases in teacher salaries and stipends with improved benefits and working conditions.
The New Mexico Public Education Department (PED) is proposing an increase in budget for the next fiscal year that includes a 7 percent increase in salaries for all school personnel, and funds for educator recruitment and professional development, health and social services, community schools’ initiatives, and literacy. According to the December 7, 2021 Las Cruces Sun-News, Texas has created a Teacher Incentive Allotment that allows additional pay for teachers who oversee growth in their students’ academic outcomes, resulting in some teachers earning $100,000 a year. States in our region will probably increase salaries for their educators also. The proposed PED budget increase would be progress, but may not be sufficient to the needs of school personnel and student support.
While more education dollars in the state budget will help, we, as members of the community, need to play our own roles in informing ourselves about the operations of our school districts and advocating for resources that provide strong student learning experiences. New Mexico is currently awash in funds to address problems attendant to the pandemic, including inequities in the accessibility of Internet services. It is our obligation as citizens to monitor the plans for those funds. Budgeting the money is only the first step; we need transparency and accountability in the implementation of programs. Our school districts can help us by providing data such as pay rates for our districts compared with others in the state, region and nation. It can be difficult for the average citizen to find this information in consistent formats. In New Mexico, for example, we have a three-tiered pay system, so that the average salary in a district would be affected by the proportion of teachers at the different tiers.
We can all be mindful of the fact that a single teacher can change lives in positive ways. Let’s give respect to those who work in public education. The focus should be on what is best for student learning. Students are our future.
Kathy Brook and Eileen VanWie are co-presidents of the League of Women’s Voters of Southern New Mexico.