Let Our Voices Be Heard!
by: Mary Parr-Sánchez
For too long educators have watched as others define who we are and what we do. Too many times our voices have not been heard or considered, as decisions were made that both influence and shape the future of our public schools and students in New Mexico. It is time that educators have a voice, a unified collective voice, that speaks to the basic truths we all believe in. It is through the amplification of your voice that NEA-NM continues to move forward in working to deliver an equitable and quality public education for all New Mexico students.
This May, NEA-NM carried out an extensive member survey and found that, while New Mexico educators may not agree on everything, there are issues of near universal importance to our profession. First, educators agree that we are not paid enough for the job that we must do. In New Mexico, educators are paid 30% less than other college graduates. This wage penalty certainly doesn’t help us shore up our ranks while the second highest retirement outflux of educators in recent history happened in May of 2021, which will only further exacerbate the acute educator shortage. We find ourselves in a deepening crisis, with few educators entering the profession and way too many exiting. Even fewer high-quality, well-prepared educators, who look like our students and speak native languages and Spanish as our state constitution guarantees, are entering or staying in our classrooms. This educator shortage will have long-term consequences on the educational outcomes of students, especially ethnic minority students, English language learner students, and students with disabilities, and yet little has been done to address it. We need a 10% across the board increase in pay, a $15.00 minimum wage for all public school employees, and we need to raise the tier minimums to $45,000, $55,000, and $65,000 to attract quality educators to teach in NM and end this crisis.
Another fact educators can agree on is that our healthcare increases are outpacing our increases in pay. Many years we don’t even get a cost-of-living increase when our health insurance premiums go up, and we take home less pay than the year before. It is true that the Governor and Legislature gave us a healthy 6% raise in 2019 after years of very little interest or action from the previous administration. However, in January 2020, the Legislature and Governor mostly took away the 4% pay increase they had planned to implement due to the pandemic. The promise of salary increases that could keep pace with health care premiums was snatched away, just as in-person instruction was snatched away as well. We need the American Rescue Plan funds that were sent to help states in this trying time to be used by districts to pay 80% of our health care premiums, so that we can experience an actual increase in pay. The law allows for this but districts need to receive the funding from the state in order to enact it.
Educators also agree that our planning time is being siphoned away. Research tells us that the countries with the highest performing students offer way more planning time to educators, and yet our intuitions tell us that if we can’t find enough educators to even staff classrooms, how will districts have the staff to increase planning time? This brings us to another point educators can agree on: we must ensure each school has adequate staffing and maintains appropriate class sizes. In recent years, class size averaging and class size waivers have allowed classes to grow above the statutory maximums. We must stop the use of these inaccurate measurements and end the educator shortage crisis to ensure that every student has the one-on-one attention from a highly-qualified educator they need to thrive.
Educators also agree that Community Schools are an answer to many of the issues facing our students and our schools. In Community Schools, a deep needs and assets assessment is carried out with staff, students, parents, and community to find out what a school does well and what it needs help with. An on-site coordinator is hired to do this work and to develop strategic partnerships with local organizations and other community partners to meet the needs of students and their families. The state must provide adequate funding to turn every high-poverty school in the state into a Community School. This funding must also be recurring, so schools have time to ensure the long-term sustainability of their partnerships, collaborative leadership structures, and student supports.
Finally, educators agree that early childhood education is key to the lifelong success of New Mexico students. We support the constitutional amendment calling for additional funding from the Land Grant Permanent Fund be allocated to expanding ECE in our state. This will allow us to finally start closing educational opportunity gaps early and guarantee each student a chance to succeed in life.
New Mexico educators have the power to change our education system for the better if we raise our collective voice for these basic truths. It’s time for bold action to make our voices heard loud and clear in Santa Fe. Sign up here to share your story about these issues and get involved in organizing for change!
NEA-New Mexico President