A record number of New Mexico teachers applied for student debt relief under the Teacher Loan Repayment program, according to the state’s Higher Education Department (HED).
Nearly 500 teachers from across the state applied for the program in 2021, three times as many who applied in 2020, a news release from the HED stated.
This happened as the number of educator vacancies nearly doubled over the last year according to a report by New Mexico State University’s Southwest Outreach Academic Research Evaluation and Policy Center.
The report indicated there were 1,048 teacher vacancies in New Mexico in 2021. Roughly one-fifth, or 209 of them were in southeast New Mexico.
“Initiatives like the Teacher Loan Repayment Program are a critical tool to not only recruit educators into our profession but also retain our veteran educators,” said American Federation of Teachers New Mexico President Whitney Holland.
The program helps teachers work in high-need areas, including science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), career technical education, bilingual education, early childhood education, special education, and those teaching in schools with free and reduced lunch programs.
The majority of schools in southeast New Mexico have students that qualify for free or reduced lunch, but some areas have more than others.
According to the New Mexico Public Education Department (PED) 43 percent of students from Carlsbad Municipal Schools are in the free or reduced lunch program; 66.33 percent of students from Hobbs Municipal Schools are in the program and 67.1 percent of students from Alamogordo Public schools are in the program.
Roswell Independent Schools has 76.64 percent of its students in the program and Ruidoso Municipal Schools has 83.27 percent of its students get free or reduced lunch.
The Teacher Loan Repayment Program is just one of the many initiatives aimed at strengthening the education workforce in New Mexico. The HED also offers Teacher Preparation Affordability and the Grow Your Own Teachers scholarship programs.
The PED launched the New Mexico Educator Fellowship program which trains teachers as they work as educational assistants.
Schools and legislators have also made efforts to improve teachers’ salaries to help hire and retain teachers.
The PED allocated $30 million of COVID-19 relief funds to supplement salaries and hire staff who support the school’s coronavirus mitigation program.
CMS teachers should expect a pay raise with a salary starting at $50,000 a year up to $86,000 a year under a collective bargaining agreement with the National Education Association Carlsbad.
Claudia Silva is a reporter from the UNM Local Reporting Fellowship. She can be reached at [email protected], by phone at 575-628-5506 or on Twitter @thewatchpup.