Teacher pay raises headed for debate in committee

By: - January 21, 2022 5:46 pm
A teacher in a mask cleans desks during the pandemic.

There are significant barriers to U.S. teachers actually being able to use their paid sick leave, according to Education Week Research Center. (Stock photo from Getty Images)

As the National Guard is called in to staff schools struggling around the state, an effort to boost teacher pay in New Mexico is moving in a busy but short legislative session. 

Senate Bill 1 would increase the minimum pay for licensed teachers and is set to be heard in the Senate Education Committee Wednesday at 9 a.m. New hires would see $10,000 more in the tiered-system that bases salary on experience under the measure. Starting minimum pay would rise to $50,000. Level two teachers would earn at least $60,000, and those with the highest level of experience and qualifications in level three would see their minimum salary bump to $70,000. 

Teachers who work in extended learning programs would also see healthier pay for the extra work.

The effort to raise teacher pay is also a major piece of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s legislative platform. It was the first policy proposal presented during her State of the State speech. In addition to SB 1, the governor’s budget calls for a 7% increase in pay for teachers and school staff that will be debated by the House in their spending bill.

“They deserve it, and we can afford it, and it’s the right thing to do,” Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said. 

New Mexico educators have seen a 13% increase in average salary over the last five years. The state’s average salary for educators is $54,256, behind other western states like Nevada, Texas and Colorado. Overall, New Mexico is ranked 32nd in the country for average teacher pay. 

The 7% increase would expand the average educator salary to $64,006. Which is just ahead of the average U.S. salary of $63,645 according to the National Education Association.

The National Education Association-New Mexico did call for a 10% raise for teachers across the board but does support the smaller boost under the governor’s budget proposal, as well as those offered under SB 1. 

Raising teacher pay is part of a push to fill the state’s shortage of teachers. New Mexico has more than 1,700 teacher openings, according to the 2021 Teacher Vacancy Report. Issues related to the pandemic show how desperate schools need teachers. Since winter break, 60 school districts have moved into remote learning. This week, Lujan Grisham called for state employees and the National Guard to volunteer as substitute teachers.

Rally Sunday, Jan. 23

NEA-NM will host a rally this weekend with educators and school staff from across the state to support not only the pay raise initiatives but to call on lawmakers to address teacher shortages, retention and professional development.  The event will be outside the Roundhouse on Sunday at noon.

“The governor’s budget is aligned with the six priorities outlined by thousands of educators throughout the state, and it will take every piece of this and more to address the dire situation our state’s schools are in, despite the heroic efforts of hardworking teachers and other school personnel,” said Mary Parr-Sanchez, NEA-NM president. 

The organization, which also represents school staff across the state, is supporting a $15 minimum wage for all people who work at a school. 

The group would also like to see their raises stay in their bank accounts and not go toward health insurance premiums that are expected to rise again. The association is calling for legislators to consider proposals that would increase the state’s share to teacher health insurance plans.

The bill is one of 60 introduced into the chamber and designated germane by the Senate Committees’ Committee. The group meets again Monday and could prioritize additional measures. 

With more than 140 bills introduced just on the Senate side and only 26 days left in the 2022 legislative session, the designation is vital for proposals to have a chance at debate and a floor vote. However, this doesn’t mean these bills will make it there. 

While every bill does have a committee assignment, proposals labeled germane also include efforts to reduce the gross receipts sales tax (SB 5), raise the minimum wage for state employees to $15 an hour (SB 7), and fund homeless shelters (SB 63), domestic violence centers (SB 64) and food banks (SB 65).

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Shaun Griswold
Shaun Griswold

Shaun Griswold is a journalist in Albuquerque. He is a citizen of the Pueblo of Laguna, and his ancestry also includes Jemez and Zuni on the maternal side of his family. He grew up in Albuquerque and Gallup. He brings a decade of print and broadcast news experience. Shaun reports on issues important to Native Americans in urban and tribal communities throughout the state, including education and child welfare.