New Mexico educators rally amid growing teacher shortage

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SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Educators are calling on state lawmakers to do something about the shortage of teachers in New Mexico, saying schools are at a critical juncture due to the historic level of vacancies across all positions within the public education system.

“Unless lawmakers in New Mexico enact bold remedies to address this looming crisis, we risk jeopardizing the education of generations of New Mexico’s students,” organizers said in an online petition that is part of what they have dubbed the “3 Rs” campaign — respect, recruit and retain.

As part of the movement, teachers were scheduled to gather outside the state Capitol for a march Sunday afternoon. The national presidents of both the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association were expected to speak.

There are more than 1,000 vacant licensed positions in New Mexico, with those vacancies represent over 20,000 students who are without a well-trained, permanent classroom teacher, according to union officials.

The shortage has been years in the making, and state officials have acknowledged that the COVID-19 pandemic only helped to exacerbate the problem. Veteran educators also are retiring at such a high rate that they cannot be easily or quickly replaced.

Just this week, Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham rolled out a plan aimed at tapping volunteers from the National Guard and state agencies to serve as substitute teachers to address the recent rash of absences in Santa Fe and other school districts due to the pandemic.

The governor also has proposed a pay increase, hoping to attract more educators to the state.

The unions contend that the New Mexico Public Education Department has failed to meet its oversight functions to ensure that all students are receiving the programs and services they need. They pointed to an ongoing court fight over the state’s failure to provide an adequate education for low income, Native American, English language learners, and disabled students. That includes around 70% of all K-12 students.

In violation of the state constitution, the unions say that New Mexico has failed to provide students with the programs and services that it acknowledges prepare them for college and career.

“We are demanding a commitment that will ensure we do more than survive as public school employees — we want to thrive, and we want our students to thrive,” the petition reads.