Some retired New Mexico educators are slowly returning to classrooms - Albuquerque Journal

Some retired New Mexico educators are slowly returning to classrooms

Hawthorne Elementary School fourth grade teacher Catherine Houska leads an attentive class on their first day back from summer break in August. Some retired teachers are making their way back into the classroom in New Mexico as part of legislation passed earlier this year. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal

New Mexico’s plan to entice retired educators to come back to the classroom is working – even if only by a little.

As of the end of October, 74 retired educators were taking advantage of a return to work provision passed earlier this year that makes it easier for people to get back in the classroom without losing their retirement benefits, according to data presented to the Legislative Education Study Committee on Monday.

The so-called “Educational Retirees Returning to Work Act,” or House Bill 73, went into effect in May. It allows educators to return to work for a maximum of 36 months and keep their pension, sponsors of the bipartisan bill have said.

They added it was intended as a temporary provision aimed at encouraging educators to return to work, especially in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, which fueled New Mexico’s educator workforce shortage. In 2021, the total number of educator vacancies was 1,727, up from 1,054 in 2019. New Mexico has since made gains in that arena. An October New Mexico State University Southwest Outreach Academic Research Evaluation and Policy Center report found the state had 690 teacher vacancies, with 1,344 educator vacancies overall.

The bill has apparently helped in replenishing the state’s workforce, even if only with 65 retired K-12 educators – 22 of whom were teachers.

In some districts, like Albuquerque Public Schools, the number of retirements has gone down since 2020. Educational Retirement Board Executive Director David Archuleta also suggested that may be part of the reason the number of retirees returning to work under HB 73 isn’t very high.

“There’s been an increase in numbers,” he told the committee. “But I think what we have concluded, basically, since the retirement numbers dropped to about 900, is probably some of the pay raises that went into effect this last year are probably incentivizing folks to stick around a little while longer before they retire and opt into one of the return to work options.”

That said, he figures the provision may need a bit more time to see effects.

“The bill just became effective, really, for people that retired after July 1 of this year. Now, we’ll see the people that come in after January this year,” he said in an interview after the meeting. “I’d say it just needs to be given a little bit of time to really assess what sort of impact it’s had.”

Overall, 3,466 people were participating in return to work programs, again as of the end of October, Archuleta said. Those totals include numbers from this year’s retirees act, but are largely made up of return to work programs that were already in place.

According to estimates from earlier this year, there were some 48,000 retired K-12 and college educators throughout New Mexico.

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