SANTA FE (AP) — New Mexico’s governor signed law four bills into law that will increase funding for education, including major hikes to teacher salaries.
Democrat Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham held the ceremony Tuesday outdoors at an elementary school in Santa Fe, following the passage of the bills by the Legislature last month.
Flanked by schoolchildren and the national leader of a teacher’s union, she signed one bill that will increase teacher and counselor salary minimums by $10,000.
“We have to pay our educators a salary that is commensurate with their incredible … experience, education and the fact that they are working more than full time supporting their students,” Lujan Grisham said.
Currently, teachers make at least $40,000 when they start out, $50,000 after additional training and experience, and $60,000 when they pass an intensive master teacher certification.
Increases in teacher pay and benefits come as the state seeks to fill 1,000 teaching positions, with about 5% of classrooms short a licensed educator. Stopgap measures have ranged from having teaching assistants run classes to deploying around 80 National Guard soldiers to serve as substitutes.
Starting teachers and counselors earning a minimum salary would benefit the most, with a 22% raise.
The teacher raise bill faced no opposition in the Legislature last month, and Lujan Grisham mentioned at least one Republican lawmaker in a long list of thank-yous.
Many school workers, from nurses to janitors to those who already earn more than the minimum, won’t benefit from that measure. But Lujan Grisham is expected to sign another bill that, after deducting increases in minimum salaries, will ensure all school workers at least 7% more than income than they earn now.
Grisham, who is running for reelection this year, is also set to approve a $15 minimum wage for school and state workers.
At the elementary school, Lujan Grisham also signed bills aimed at supporting teachers in training and luring retirees back to the classroom.
A teacher training program will increase to $35,000 a salary for aspiring teachers serving in classrooms during their final year of school. It also creates a stipend for teachers and principals who work with them as mentors.
A third bill she signed adds $100 million to a teacher pension fund over three years. A fourth bill makes it easier for teachers to return to the classroom after they retire, reducing the cooling-off period from one year to just three months, the length of a summer break.
One recently retired teacher, Rep. Debra Sariñana, D-Albuquerque, attended the bill signing. She said her old high school is asking her to come back, and she’s weighing that against spending more time with her grandchildren.