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Members of The National Education Association-New Mexico (NEA-NM) from Las Cruces and around the state, along with the state and national NEA presidents, rallied outside the state capitol in Santa Fe Sunday afternoon, Jan. 23, “to seek relief from effects of statewide staffing crisis,” NEA-NM said in a news release.
The New Mexico Legislature is in session through Feb. 17 and is considering teacher raises and other education-related legislation during the 30-day budget session.
“Spending time with educators from all over the state allows us to see that our challenges and issues are common to all of us,” said Centennial High School teacher and NEA-LC member Gail Wheeler, who attended the Santa Fe rally. “We need more support staff, we need to be compensated fairly and we need to have time to plan high-quality lessons. We aren’t asking for anything unreasonable, but all school employees need to be treated with more respect.”
“This moment is a crossroads for our states’ decision makers,” said NEA-NM President Mary Parr-Sanchez, a Las Cruces teacher. “We have the potential to harness the unprecedented resources available to our state and invest them in our future – in our students. We need a paradigm shift in the way our schools operate. Too many children are slipping through the cracks in our system. The overreliance on standardized tests and unfunded mandates drives educators out and deprive children from the education they deserve. We must invest in proven strategies for improving our schools, such as the community school model and early childhood education,” Parr-Sanchez said.
NEA-NM said educators “focused on six priorities to address the current education crisis: better wages, affordable health insurance, smaller class sizes, improved staffing, more access to prep time, childcare and affordable housing.
“There are more than 1,000 vacant licensed positions and over 800 vacant education support professional positions across our state, and teacher vacancies are only the tip of the iceberg,” NEA-NM said. “These 1,000 vacancies alone represent over 20,000 of New Mexico’s students without a high-quality, well-trained, permanent classroom teacher.”
“This is a challenging time for our nation,” national NEA President Becky Pringle of Philadelphia said at the rally. “We are faced with multiple crises. And yet, here in the Land of Enchantment, I see hope – hope that New Mexico can come together behind a vision that recognizes the potential of our children to be the light that will lead us forward through these dark and challenging times.”
On Jan. 26, the New Mexico Senate Education Committee unanimously passed Senate bills 1 and 36, which would, respectively, raise the minimum salary for licensed teachers by an average of 20 percent and also raise minimum salaries for principals, assistant principals and school counselors, and increase employer contributions by three percent over two years.
“We need to be clear that New Mexico’s public schools aren’t failing society, but rather we as a society are failing our public schools,” said state Sen. Bill Soules, D-Doña Ana, chair of the Senate Education Committee. “The bills we passed through committee today are just a few of the many measures my colleagues and I will be hearing to address social determinants that impact our students every day.”
“New Mexico is in a crisis when it comes to attracting teachers to our classrooms, then convincing them to stay invested in our communities,” said state Senate President Pro Tempore Mimi Stewart, D-Bernalillo, who sponsored both bills. “In the past year alone, teacher vacancies have nearly doubled as a growing number of educators retire from the classroom. New Mexico’s teachers have been underpaid for decades. These bills not only directly address the issue of teacher pay but reaffirm the state’s commitment to those inspiring our next generation of leaders.”
SB1, co-sponsored by state Sen. Siah Correa Hemphill, D-Grant, Catron, Socorro, would raise minimum teacher salaries from $41,000 to $50,000 for level 1 teachers, from $50,000 to $60,000 for level 2 teachers and from $60,000 to $70,000 for level 3 teachers and counselors.