Teacher pay and other education priorities for legislative session

Sylvia Ulloa

There’s one thing most New Mexico policy makers and advocates seem to agree on as we barrel toward the 2020 legislative session on Jan. 21: Despite boosting pay for teachers and other public school employees in 2019, they’re not finished yet. Where the difference comes is in how much of an increase is needed and sustainable. Another easy observation? Education will be the key conversation at the Roundhouse, despite hot button additions like the “red flag” gun legislation Lujan Grisham proposed again Thursday in Las Cruces and the debate over legalizing recreational cannabis.

New report confirms NM early childhood workers paid poorly

If you’ve been following the efforts to build early childhood education in New Mexico over the past few years, a recently released report about a statewide needs assessment won’t hold a lot of surprises. There were the usual issues of low wages and high turnover, poor coordination among early childhood programs, lack of dependable funding and the need for higher-quality programs and greater access across every region of the state. 

The New Mexico Early Childhood Development Partnership, out of United Way of Santa Fe, is in charge of a planning process for the Early Childhood Education and Care Department, with the mandate to complete a needs assessment and help put together a strategic plan for the new agency. It’s conducted a monthslong trek through the state to gather feedback. 

There were, however, a couple of interesting takeaways. NMID recently published a story on poor wages for early childhood workers and teachers, and a workforce survey produced for the partnership really put some meat on those bones. 

The survey reached 1,290 of New Mexico’s more than 5,000 early childhood workers. Source: New Mexico Early Childhood Development Partnership

One striking data point from the workforce survey is that a large number of high-level workers in early childhood education make less than $30,000 a year.

Low pay: A stumbling block for quality childcare

Michelle Masiwemai takes a selfie with some of the children she cared for at Best of the Southwest day care center in Las Cruces. Michelle Masiwemai — like many early childhood workers — is a mom. But her job at a Las Cruces home-based child care center didn’t pay enough to support her 8-year-old daughter, who lives with her parents in Guam while she and her fiancé try to get on firmer financial footing. The daughter of two educators, including a kindergarten teacher who now teaches early childhood education at the college level, Masiwemai was raised in a family of 10 children. 

“My whole life I’ve been around children. I was a babysitter.

What is high quality childcare?

Valeria Holloway, owner of Best of the Southwest Day Care Center in Las Cruces, teaches preschool. She uses a curriculum that she learned in Virginia but is hoping to get a contract for New Mexico PreK. Don’t call her a babysitter. That’s a teenager who wants $50 and pizza to watch your children on date night. 

Valeria Holloway has taken care of children professionally for nearly 20 years. She started in the business, as many young mothers do, because the cost of child care was so high that it would have eaten up most of her salary, and she preferred to stay home with her new child.

New Yazzie court filings seek more action on education

The state didn’t spend enough, and it still doesn’t have a plan. That, in essence, is what attorneys in the state’s landmark Martinez/Yazzie education lawsuit argue in a legal motion that seeks concrete steps to guarantee Native Americans, English learners, disabled and low-income students a sufficient education. 

Wilhelmina Yazzie, lead plaintiff in the case, has two high schoolers in the Gallup McKinley district. She said even after the state pumped nearly half a billion into the public schools, her sons aren’t seeing it in the classroom. There are no new textbooks or computers, teachers are still providing resources out of pocket and classes that reflects their Navajo culture are still lacking. “I know a lot of our teachers, they do want to help our children.

Lt. Gov. Howie Morales

Lt. governor’s next education frontier: out-of-school-time learning

Lt. Gov. Howie Morales visits Las Cruces on a recent October morning to talk about his after-school learning initiative. Lt. Gov. Howie Morales was running late to an interview at the IHOP in Las Cruces. 

His job these days puts him on the road a lot, but he still likes to drop his kids off at school in Silver City. That connection is something the former coach, special education teacher and state senator wants to keep with education in general. 

“Education is always going to be at the heart of what I do because that’s why I got into public service,” he said on a recent October morning during a visit to Las Cruces, where he talked up a summit planned for Tuesday in Albuquerque on after-school and out-of-school time activities that would strengthen kids’ connections to school and provide more learning opportunities. As a senator, Morales got involved in the full spectrum of education, from preschool to higher education. He credited early educators in Grant County for making him understand a successful higher education system started with strong early education such as home visiting and preschool.