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Governor vows to OK pay hike for teachers

SANTA FE – Minimum starting teacher pay in New Mexico will increase to $36,000 a year – up from $34,000 – starting this fall under legislation that Gov. Susana Martinez vowed Monday to sign into law.

The two-term Republican governor, who will return today from political meetings in Utah, called the legislation pivotal in her administration’s attempt to improve the state’s public education system.

New Mexico’s graduation rate has improved recently – the statewide rate for 2017 was 71.1 percent – but in a high-profile lawsuit that’s nearing a resolution, the state’s K-12 education system has been described as inadequately funded, particularly when it comes to programs for minority students.

“While there’s still more work to be done, this legislation is an important step in continuing to give our students, teachers and schools the resources they need to succeed,” Martinez said in a statement.

The measure, Senate Bill 119, also calls for minimum pay levels to be increased for veteran educators under New Mexico’s three-tier system – from $42,000 to $44,000 per year for second-tier teachers and from $52,000 to $54,000 for third-tier teachers. Teachers can move up in tiers if they meet certain benchmarks.

Senate Majority Whip Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, who sponsored the bill in the recent 30-day legislative session, said the increases in minimum salary levels will help with teacher recruitment and retention problems and could improve teacher morale.

“It makes it a little bit easier for districts, especially along the (state’s) borders, to give teachers some hope that it isn’t a dead end when it comes to salary,” Stewart told the Journal.

Roughly $17 million to pay for the higher salaries is included in a $6.3 billion budget bill that still awaits action by the governor. That bill also includes money to give all teachers a 2.5 percent pay raise in the coming budget year.

The average salary for public school teachers was $47,638 during the 2016-17 school year, according to the Public Education Department. That’s lower than the average educator pay in most neighboring states.

Meanwhile, roughly half of New Mexico teachers leave after four years on the job, according to a fiscal analysis of the bill Martinez vowed to sign into law.

The governor has until Wednesday to sign or veto a total of 40 bills from this year’s legislative session that have not been acted on. Bills not signed by that deadline are automatically vetoed.