Teachers change lives. We make their jobs easier by ensuring students have high-quality learning materials and by crafting strong curricula, but never underestimate the power of one compassionate educator to help a child get on course, stay on course or even change course when needed.
Most successful adults remember at least one extraordinary teacher who inspired them to achieve academically, socially or emotionally. Our children – the future of New Mexico – need and deserve teachers like that. Teachers are a critical component of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s education moonshot – a promise to build the nation’s best cradle-to-college or -career education system. We need highly qualified educators in every classroom to get there.
But, instead of adding teachers to our workforce, New Mexico is losing them. Our chronic shortage of teachers nearly doubled last year to 1,000 vacancies, according to researchers at New Mexico State University’s Southwest Outreach Academic Research Evaluation & Policy Center. Teacher preparation programs nationally report lower admission and graduation rates. In New Mexico, 979 students completed an educator preparation program during the 2020-21 academic year, a decrease of 51 program completions compared to the year before.
I’m no economist, but I do remember the simple law of supply and demand, which says the price for a good or service rises as demand rises. In other words: To stay competitive, New Mexico must pay more to recruit and keep teachers in the classroom.
That’s the simple formula guiding Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s proposal to raise educator pay 7% across the board in fiscal 2023. If approved by the Legislature, these raises will significantly boost our competitiveness, and put us on par with Colorado and Texas, which have the highest average teacher salaries in the region.
Additionally, the governor wants to raise minimum salaries in our three-tiered system to $50,000, $60,000 and $70,000. Together with the raises, this would bring to $64,006 the average teacher salary in New Mexico.
Teachers deserve higher pay because of the life-changing, difficult work they do, because of the educational level required to be a teacher, and because their efforts secure for all of us an educated and more successful workforce in the future. All those reasons are valid. But let’s stick to the law of supply and demand: If we make teaching jobs more desirable through higher pay, more college students will choose to major in education and become educators, and more veteran educators will choose to remain in the classroom instead of leaving for more lucrative careers – which we’re currently seeing around the country on a large scale.
In 2019, this administration secured 6% raises for all New Mexico educators and dramatically increased the base educator salary level in the state’s three-tier licensure system. Despite a state budget crisis, we managed to give educators 2% raises in 2020.
But New Mexico still has a long way to go if we’re going to be competitive with our neighbors. Clearly, we must do more to signal that teaching is a vital and valued profession. It’s time to raise New Mexico educator salaries to meet the competition.
Kurt Steinhaus is a career educator in New Mexico.