Boosting teacher pay would help students, make NM competitive - Albuquerque Journal

Boosting teacher pay would help students, make NM competitive

Everyone wants the best possible teachers for our children, but are we willing to make this critical investment?

For decades, America has levied a financial penalty on young people wanting to become educators. In 2003, the average new teacher earned 14% less than workers with similar education and work experience, often while accumulating vast amounts of debt prior to even entering a classroom.

New Mexico is not exempt from this trend: We have the third-highest teacher wage penalty in the country, with public school teachers earning nearly 30% less than nonteacher college graduates.

Meanwhile, teachers are almost twice as likely as other employed adults to experience frequent job-related stress and almost three times more likely to experience depressive symptoms. Add all that up, and it’s easy to understand the current national educator workforce crisis – a critical shortage of educators from coast to coast.

That’s why we support Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s proposal to raise minimum salaries for the state’s three teaching tiers to $50,000, $60,000 and $70,000. That, coupled with significant increases for the many other dedicated educators who help make our schools run every day, can improve the educator ecosystem in New Mexico and signal to current and future educators that we value their hard work and professionalism and want to keep them at the head of the class and in our schools.

In 2021, New Mexico had 1,727 teacher vacancies – nearly double 2020, according to researchers at New Mexico State University. Many of these vacancies are in critical roles such as special education and elementary education, disproportionately impacting our youngest learners.

Educator pay is rising again as states attempt to attract bright college students or those seeking a second career to the profession while also keeping experienced classroom veterans from leaving for more lucrative careers or altogether. Nationally, the average teacher salary last school year was $65,090 – a modest 1.5% increase over the year before, according to an annual report by the National Education Association.

In New Mexico, teachers have received raises totaling 8.5% since fiscal 2020 – however much of that has been eaten away by rising health care costs and inflation. The average New Mexico educator earned $54,923 last year – considerably below the national average and what teachers can earn by crossing borders into Colorado, average $60,611; Texas, average $57,641; or Utah, average $56,918.

Raising educator pay in New Mexico will make our state competitive with neighboring states, all of which are also experiencing a shortage of educators.

The days when highly qualified college graduates would accept a wage penalty in order to teach are over, if they ever even existed. If New Mexicans want the best and brightest teachers for our children, we’re going to have to pay them a wage that respects them.

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