Teachers demand full funding for insurance premiums in Roundhouse rally

By Margaret O’Hara, The Santa Fe New Mexican Nicole Pearson loves her job.  She’s a lead teacher in a highly structured special education classroom at Aspen Community School in Santa Fe. She has two master’s degrees and nearly two decades of experience as an educator.  But when her eldest child became gravely ill, Pearson said […]

Teachers demand full funding for insurance premiums in Roundhouse rally

By Margaret O’Hara, The Santa Fe New Mexican

Nicole Pearson loves her job. 

She’s a lead teacher in a highly structured special education classroom at Aspen Community School in Santa Fe. She has two master’s degrees and nearly two decades of experience as an educator. 

But when her eldest child became gravely ill, Pearson said she had to make an excruciating choice. On a teacher’s salary, there was no way she could afford the surgeries and medications her daughter needed. So she chose to decrease her hours, dropping to part-time status and making her daughter eligible for public health coverage. 

Pearson said she was only able to return to work full-time after her daughter’s death.

“My daughter passed away as a result of her condition, and that is what allowed me to come back to work full time — a hollow trade that will haunt me for the rest of my life,” she said.

This problem of educators making sacrifices — from skipping doctor’s appointments to leaving the industry — due to the cost of their health insurance is far more common than it should be in New Mexico, Pearson said. 

Hundreds of educators from across the state gathered Monday at the Roundhouse for a rally demanding the Legislature fully fund House Bill 102, which would shift a significant chunk of health care costs — on average, about $4,000 per year — from public school teachers to their employers.

So far, HB 102 has garnered the approval of two legislative committees with little pushback. Before the House Labor, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee earlier this month, experts promised the bill would decrease educators’ share of health care premiums to costs below those of other state employees. 

However, the bill did not include an appropriation to fund the shift in costs.

The bill’s fiscal impact report provides a range of estimates for the cost of implementation, from a Legislative Finance Committee projection of $146 million to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s executive budget recommendation of $100 million to budget recommendations of just under $32 million from both the Legislative Education Study Committee and Legislative Finance Committee.

The latest version of the state budget, which passed the House on Thursday, appropriates nearly $32 million to pay for HB 102. 

That’s $68 million short, said Mary Parr-Sanchez, a middle school social studies teacher and president of the state’s branch of the National Education Association.

The crowd of teachers and supporters rallied Monday in front of the Roundhouse with signs and megaphones to let legislators know that. 

“We call on the Legislature to ensure that educators — as state employees and front-line workers during the pandemic — can afford health care for themselves and their families,” Parr-Sanchez said. 

Securing the full $100 million is a big deal to New Mexico educators as they stretch their own household budgets and work in an industry with a significant number of vacancies, said Denise Sheehan, a bilingual education teacher and president of the Las Cruces chapter of the National Education Association.

The change would put funds formerly spent on health care premiums back in educators’ wallets, an important change as New Mexicans grapple with increasing costs of living, Sheehan said.

“Some people will see close to a $1,000 increase in their paycheck a month. That is a lot. This is a monumental change for our educators,” she said. 

That’s particularly true in Santa Fe, Pearson added. She said her family’s health care costs are nearly the price of her mortgage payments each month. 

“Imagine what taking the second-biggest expense off of our table could do for our profession. People would feel valued and respected,” Pearson said.

Parr-Sanchez anticipated the impact to the profession could be enormous: It could lead to recruitment of new educators and ensure educators already in the classroom stay. 

The state’s educator shortage has diminished following significant investments in recent years, but it hasn’t gone away. According to a 2022 study from New Mexico State University, there are still about 1,300 educator vacancies in New Mexico, with nearly 700 teacher vacancies.

“The students of New Mexico are facing a crisis caused by too many empty classrooms and understaffed schools. One of the reasons we can’t fill those jobs is because the cost of health care for public school employees is too high,” Parr-Sanchez said. 

Educators overwhelmingly support the decrease in costs. One National Education Association-New Mexico poll found that, of the more than 450 educators surveyed, 88% would be more likely or significantly more likely to stay in the profession if health care were funded at the level mandated in HB 102. 

To teach well, educators have to be well, Sheehan said, and the ability to access medical care goes a long way in ensuring that happens. 

Pearson said she sees herself as more than just a teacher. In her address to the crowd, she described her role as a mentor, a confidant, a substitute family member. She said it’s her job to acknowledge the trauma students bring to school, to defend students against abuse, food insecurity and other crises.

But she can’t provide this level of support to students when high health insurance costs restrict her ability to care for herself or push her into part-time hours. 

“I work at a Title I school; the trauma is immense,” Pearson said, referring to a federal designation for schools serving a high number of low-income students. “I should have the access to be able to support that for myself, to be the best me.”

We're ad free

That means that we rely on support from readers like you. Help us keep reporting on the most important New Mexico Stories by donating today.

Related

Both Republicans and Democrats skeptical of guv’s proposals for special session

Both Republicans and Democrats skeptical of guv’s proposals for special session

A representative from Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s office outlined on Thursday the bills the governor’s office will back during the upcoming special session, but…
Senators throw support to embattled Ivey-Soto

Senators throw support to embattled Ivey-Soto

By Justin Horwath, New Mexico In Dept Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto is running for a fourth term despite the state Democratic Party’s decision to censure…
AG announces legislative priorities for upcoming special session

AG announces legislative priorities for upcoming special session

Attorney General Raúl Torrez announced on Thursday his legislative priorities for July’s special legislative session, including the creation of a crime victim’s unit to…
PNM seeks rate increase

PNM seeks rate increase

Customers of New Mexico’s largest electric utility may pay more for energy in the future. The Public Service Company of New Mexico filed an…
DOE announces funding to help bring technologies to market

DOE announces funding to help bring technologies to market

National laboratories across the country, including Sandia National Laboratories, will use millions of dollars in federal funding to spur the deployment of projects related…
LANL plans to release highly radioactive tritium to prevent explosions. Will it just release danger in the air?

LANL plans to release highly radioactive tritium to prevent explosions. Will it just release danger in the air?

By Alicia Inez Guzmán, Searchlight New Mexico Last fall, the international community rose up in defense of the Pacific Ocean. Seafood and salt purveyors,…
Stansbury outlines funding secured for early childhood and youth services programs

Stansbury outlines funding secured for early childhood and youth services programs

U.S. Rep. Melanie Stansbury secured $8.3 million for childhood development and youth services in the 1st congressional district through federal community project funding. Stansbury,…
Amid new graduation requirements, what do high schoolers want to learn?

Amid new graduation requirements, what do high schoolers want to learn?

By Margaret O’Hara, The Santa Fe New Mexican The main things that bring Brayan Chavez to school every day: Seeing, talking to and engaging with…
Special ed teachers hope lawmakers OK pay raises, admin changes

Special ed teachers hope lawmakers OK pay raises, admin changes

By Margaret O’Hara, The Santa Fe New Mexican Brittany Behenna Griffith has a laundry list of adjectives to describe the ideal special education teacher:…
Heinrich questions FDA leadership on baby formula safety, mifepristone

Heinrich questions FDA leadership on baby formula safety, mifepristone

U.S. Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Dr. Robert Califf answered questions about the safety of human milk formula and mifepristone on Wednesday. Sen. Martin…
Health workers fear it’s profits before protection as CDC revisits airborne transmission

Health workers fear it’s profits before protection as CDC revisits airborne transmission

Amy Maxmen, KFF Health News Four years after hospitals in New York City overflowed with covid-19 patients, emergency physician Sonya Stokes remains shaken by…
Lujan Grisham, Biden admin announce $10 million in federal funds for tribes, pueblos

Lujan Grisham, Biden admin announce $10 million in federal funds for tribes, pueblos

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced Friday $10 million in funding from the federal American Rescue Plan Act was awarded to six tribal nations and…
Abortion medication access remains after Supreme Court ruling

Abortion medication access remains after Supreme Court ruling

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled against the Texas-based Christian group trying to restrict access to abortion medication on Thursday. The case, FDA v. the…
How abortion care has changed since Dobbs 

How abortion care has changed since Dobbs 

In the month of March 2024 alone, 1,650 clinician-provided abortions took place in New Mexico, according to the reproductive research organization, the Guttmacher Institute.…
Many Democrats endorsed by reproductive rights group won primaries

Many Democrats endorsed by reproductive rights group won primaries

With nearly 53 percent of the precincts reporting as of 11 p.m. Tuesday, most of the legislative candidates endorsed by Planned Parenthood Votes New…
New Mexico food banks say food insecurity is on the rise

New Mexico food banks say food insecurity is on the rise

Food insecurity is on the rise as state benefits have decreased and the future of federal benefits have an uncertain future.  Sonya Warwick, director…
Abortion medication access remains after Supreme Court ruling

Abortion medication access remains after Supreme Court ruling

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled against the Texas-based Christian group trying to restrict access to abortion medication on Thursday. The case, FDA v. the…
How abortion care has changed since Dobbs 

How abortion care has changed since Dobbs 

In the month of March 2024 alone, 1,650 clinician-provided abortions took place in New Mexico, according to the reproductive research organization, the Guttmacher Institute.…
Post-primary, Biden leads Trumps in NM

Post-primary, Biden leads Trumps in NM

President Joe Biden leads former president Donald Trump in the race for New Mexico’s five electoral seats, according to a poll commissioned by NM…
Democrats announce spending on CD2 race

Democrats announce spending on CD2 race

The Democratic National Committee announced on Monday that it will spend $70,000 for organizing staff to aid U.S. Rep. Gabe Vasquez, the Democrat trying…
Handful of legislators lose primaries

Handful of legislators lose primaries

Every legislative seat is up for grabs in 2024, which means all incumbents who sought reelection had to face the voters. Most did not…
Post-primary, Biden leads Trumps in NM

Post-primary, Biden leads Trumps in NM

President Joe Biden leads former president Donald Trump in the race for New Mexico’s five electoral seats, according to a poll commissioned by NM…
New Mexico food banks say food insecurity is on the rise

New Mexico food banks say food insecurity is on the rise

Food insecurity is on the rise as state benefits have decreased and the future of federal benefits have an uncertain future.  Sonya Warwick, director…
Abortion medication access remains after Supreme Court ruling

Abortion medication access remains after Supreme Court ruling

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled against the Texas-based Christian group trying to restrict access to abortion medication on Thursday. The case, FDA v. the…

GET INVOLVED

© 2023 New Mexico Political Report