New Mexico Governor Seeks Pay Increase For Public Schools

FILE - Kindergarteners who are learning remotely during the coronavirus pandemic pick up meals at a bus stop near their home in Santa Fe, N.M., on Sept. 9, 2020. The Santa Fe school district decided last week to close its doors Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2021, and pivot to remote learning in a bid to reduce virus outbreaks ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday. (AP Photo/Cedar Attanasio, File)
FILE - Kindergarteners who are learning remotely during the coronavirus pandemic pick up meals at a bus stop near their home in Santa Fe, N.M., on Sept. 9, 2020. The Santa Fe school district decided last week to close its doors Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2021, and pivot to remote learning in a bid to reduce virus outbreaks ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday. (AP Photo/Cedar Attanasio, File)
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SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced Wednesday she will pursue a 7% pay increase for educators and staff at K-12 public schools as well as higher minimum salaries for teachers at various career stages.

The proposal would boost salaries for more than 50,000 public school workers across the state at an annual cost of about $280 million. The Legislature convenes in January to craft a general fund spending plan for the fiscal year that starts July 1, 2022.

“New Mexico educators deserve better compensation,” Lujan Grisham said in a statement. “It's as simple as that. ... I want our educators to be the best-compensated in the region.”

The governor's office estimated the proposed changes would increase the statewide average for teacher pay to just over $64,000 a year.

New Mexico’s minimum teacher salaries would increase to between $50,000 and $70,000, depending on experience and certifications. Current minimums ranging from $41,000 to $60,000 were set in 2019.

The proposed changes would bring New Mexico roughly in line with the recent national average for teacher pay of about $64,000.

Teacher salaries vary significantly by state and region, from about $47,000 on average last year in Mississippi to $85,000 in California, according to research published by the National Education Association union for educators.

Democratic Sen. George Muñoz of Gallup, chairman of the lead Senate budget writing committee, said the governor's proposal is likely to fall within budget recommendations from the Legislature that have not been finalized.

“I think we've already planned for that in the Legislature,” said Muñoz, adding that he hopes to extend the 7% increase to state employees. “We have the money. Let's try and get them some help.”

School districts across much of New Mexico are grappling with an aging workforce and shortage of teachers. Public schools in New Mexico rely primarily on state government spending.

Lujan Grisham signed a 6% pay increase for public school personnel in 2019. Further proposals for major pay hikes were scaled back at the outset of the coronavirus pandemic as a precaution against financial instability.

New Mexico's general fund is relatively flush with cash due to a surge in oil and natural gas income and higher than expected gross receipts tax revenues as consumers spend federal stimulus checks and tap into other recovery aid.

Recent budget forecasts for the coming fiscal year predict a $1.4 billion surplus in state government income over current spending obligations.