February 6, 2022

New Mexico Senate approves $10K increase of minimum teacher pay at each tier of licensing system

Some teachers in New Mexico can’t afford a washer or dryer.

Others live with their parents to save money.

A bill the state Senate unanimously approved Saturday that increases the starting salaries of public school teachers from $40,000 to $50,000 is designed to improve their quality of life and help New Mexico tackle a teacher shortage.

“We have 1,000 openings right now; we have a crisis,” said Sen. Bill Soules, D-Las Cruces. “This particular bill works to fix the crisis on both ends. It encourages people to come into the profession. It keeps people who are currently in the profession.”

Senate Bill 1 also raises the statutory minimum salary levels for teachers by $10,000 in each of the other two levels of the state’s three-tier licensure system, from $50,000 to $60,000 and from $60,000 to $70,000. The higher salaries would also affect principals and assistant principals, who are tied to the licensure system.

The sponsor, Senate President Pro Tem Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, said she’s wanted to change the licensure system “for quite a while” and that it took Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham “getting on board” for the legislation to gain support.

“I want to thank the governor,” Stewart said immediately before the 35-0 vote. “It wasn’t until she came out strong that the budget people paid attention, so it helps to have a good person at the helm.”

The governor, a Democrat seeking reelection this year, is also backing a separate but related 7 percent salary increase for teachers and a 10 percent increase for school personnel in districts implementing extended learning programs.

Sen. David Gallegos, R-Eunice, said lawmakers have been talking about increasing teacher pay for the past three years.

“It’s a shame that the governor withheld her endorsement of this popular effort until now, when she is down in the polls and on the ballot,” Gallegos said in a statement. “If we are truly committed to making this a better state, we have to stop waiting for political expediency before we act.”

After the vote, the Governor’s Office said in a news release the legislation, which heads next to the House, will increase base salary levels for New Mexico teachers by an average of 20 percent. The higher salaries and proposed raises will put the state on par with the national average and ahead of surrounding states, the news release states.

“I want New Mexico teachers to be the best-compensated in the region, and today we are one step closer to making that a reality,” Lujan Grisham said in a statement.

Stewart, a retired teacher, told senators that New Mexico is “sort of in the middle” and “nearing the bottom” in both starting and average salaries for teachers.

“We’re having a teacher shortage nationwide,” she said. “You know, the pandemic hasn’t just impacted New Mexico, so everyone around us is also raising teacher salaries. Now, I’m hoping we’re raising them more significantly than they are.”

Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, said the legislation represents a “big moment” for New Mexico.

“I was just sitting, thinking back not too long ago, actually, it was only 2014, when starting salary [for a teacher] was $30,000,” he said. “Look at what we’ve done, and our teachers deserve every bit of this.”

Several lawmakers spoke in favor of the bill, and many thanked teachers for their work. At the request of Sen. Carrie Hamblen, D-Las Cruces, who asked her colleagues to recognize teachers “for what they’ve gone through these last few years,” lawmakers gave educators a standing ovation.

“They have done some supercalifragilisticexpialidocious things, and we have expected so much of them,” said Sen. Michael Padilla, D-Albuquerque.

“This, I hope, is a new high watermark for public education in New Mexico,” Padilla added. “This is something we should be rejoicing. This is a historic moment that we’re about to move through here.”

Sen. Craig Brandt, R-Rio Rancho, said the state needs to make sure it is not only paying teachers more but “actually getting results.”

“I appreciate giving more to our teachers,” he said. “This is such a big increase I may have to force my wife to go back to teaching for a few years.”