Big challenges call for big ideas. New Mexicans must not only think big, but also take action to create generational change. For example, New Mexico’s quality of life cannot improve unless we address the shortage of teachers and nurses. We often talk about the shortage, but have failed to do something to improve that gap for decades. Now is our chance to make real, generational change to better our health care and educational systems.
The teacher shortage is seen and felt in every facet of students’ day-to-day lives. It creates larger class sizes, fewer electives, and combined grades in more rural and tribal areas. The steps New Mexico has taken recently to help decrease the teacher shortage work on paper, but have not helped teachers enter the classroom feeling prepared.
Recent data from the New Mexico Public Education Department shows more teachers are entering the classroom with a bachelor’s degree, but no formal training. They are equipped with the knowledge of important subjects, but not how to handle a demanding and critically important job. These individuals quit at much higher rates than traditionally trained teachers.
In late 2020, the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions cited over 6,200 job openings for registered nurses. The latest data from the department predicts that, by 2030, there will be more than 1,200 annual job openings for registered nurses in New Mexico and not enough new staff to replace those who are retiring or transferring to another profession.
We must embrace the opportunity to keep New Mexicans in the state, while creating careers, and improving education and health care systems throughout rural, tribal and urban areas. In order to curb the shortage in both crucial professions, New Mexico must recruit and train local residents now and in generations to come. New Mexicans know our state, and already care for their neighbors and friends, so are more likely to stay here and not move away for other opportunities if the state shows ingenuity in creating those opportunities.
To incentivize this training, New Mexico must find a way to ensure a grant program that would give qualified residents free tuition and fees in teacher and nursing education, respectively. The graduated student would be required to stay in the state for at least two years and work at a qualified location. The state would work with industry to guarantee job placement. This investment would pay dividends for future workforce development, quality education and health care.
Recurring revenues for fiscal year 2023 are projected to reach $8.8 billion, with nearly $1.4 billion in new monies. The new dollars are generated via a diversifying economy, recovering oil and gas markets, and higher-than-expected gross receipts tax and income tax collection. These new monies must be invested wisely to ensure our state continues to improve and to grow.
Investing in our teachers and our health care system not only generates quality workforce development, but also takes the burden off already taxed systems. New Mexicans deserve better. This is our chance to provide that for them.